Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A year in Books 2010 - The Rehearsal

The Rehearsal is the debut novel from 25 year old New Zealand Eleanor Catton. It has won numerous awards in her latest land as was published here with a lot of publicity by Granta. It had a quote from another hot young author on the cover although "a glimpse into the future of the novel itself" is usually enough for me to avoid it like the plague. Someone however knew I loved Donna Tartt's the Secret History and kept nagging me to give it a go.

Well for a start apart from being set in a school that suggests an element of privilege it has absolutely nothing in common with that novel.

The story flits between a girl's school which is coping with the scandal of one of the teachers having an affair with one of the girls and the new intake into a prestigious drama school.

At the core is the younger sister of the girl who had the affair, her music teacher and a 1st year drama student who takes the leading role in the end of year production. So far so straight forward awakening of sexual power and confusion. However when the drama school decide that their end of year production should be about the scandal then what is real and what is drama merges into one until ,as the reader, you get lost in terms of what is being acted and what is simple narrative, who are playing characters and who are being themselves.

The writing is very stylised, with the early chapters feeling like dialogue from play and descriptive passages more stage directions from a script.

At first I found this extremely annoying with everything feeling forced and layered with heavy handed symbolism (the music teacher is teaching various girls saxophone)

I was very close to to dropping the book off at Oxfam. I stuck with it as gradually, as the lines blurred, the structure and language started to fit and pull you in. However the ending just left me frustrated, it seemed to pull off the unlikely combination of being vague and heavy handed at the same time

it is original and it is an interesting use of narrative, but it did leave me craving a book of good old story telling

you can buy the Rehearsal here

I've just noticed that a customer on the Waterstone's website has given it 1 star - a tad harsh but I kind of know where they are coming from

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