Monday, May 17, 2010

Review: The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

Literary Brilliance. 

Before I go into the synopsis of The Rehearsal, I just have to say that this book is not for everyone, but it certainly was my kind of book.  It reminded me of the way I felt after I read The Confessions of Edward Day by Valerie Martin (click for review).  This was a world into which I could escape and understand and long for.  It was full of drama and script notes, angst and insecurity, scandal and lies.  I loved it!

Synopsis from Publisher:
All the world’s a stage—and nowhere more than at an all-girls high school, particularly one where a scandal has just erupted. When news spreads of a high school teacher’s relationship with his underage student, participants and observers alike soon take part in an elaborate show of concern and dismay. But beneath the surface of the teenage girls’ display, there simmers a new awareness of their own power. They obsessively examine the details of the affair with the curiosity, jealousy and approbation native to any adolescent girl, under the watchful eye of their stern and enigmatic saxophone teacher, whose focus may not be as strictly on their upcoming recital as she implies.

Shortlisted for The Guardian First Book Award, The Rehearsal is an exhilarating, darkly funny, provocative novel about the complications of human desire, a tender portrait of teenage yearning and adult regret. It marks the arrival of a boldly inventive new voice in contemporary fiction.

There are two separate story lines in this book, until they inevitably come together about two-thirds of the way in. 

On the one side is the saxophone teacher and the small group of girls that she tutors individually.  All the girls attend the same school, but it is during their sax lessons that we hear about the drama that takes place at the school  There is especially juicy gossip to tell when the director of jazz band allegedly has an affair with one of his students.  When the girls tell their stories to the sax teacher, something happens.  It's as if the girls are on stage.  The lights.  The music.  The performance.  The girls are judged as much on their story-telling prowess as they are of their saxophone playing skills...and judged harshly.  The saxophone wants a performance from the girls.  She wants the lights to change.  She wants the scene to unfold before her eyes.

The other story line is that of Stanley, an awkward eighteen year old Actor and student at The Institute, which shares the same building as the music studio where the girls take their saxophone lessons.  Stanley goes through a coming of age metamorphosis during his first year at The Institute.  Strangely enough, there is considerably less theatrics in Stanley's quest to impress his teachers.

The timeline jumps back and forth a bit as the action, characters, and stories intersect, but it is never confusing.  In fact, I barely noticed the month headings at the beginning of each section, there was such a clear idea of the timing.   The technique is used in such a subtle way that lends more toward understanding and excitement.

The first-year actors at The Institute, including Stanley, were putting on a play about a scandal they read about in the newspaper; meanwhile, the details of the scandal itself were unwrapped by the gossiping girls and relayed to the reader through their performances, their re-creations of the scenes they experienced,  all the while they were in the music studio mere steps away.  There was more acting and theatrics taking place in the saxophone lessons than on the stage of the theater academy. 

I read The Rehearsal as part of the Reagan Arthur Books Challenge, hosted by Kathy/Bermuda Onion and Julie/Booking Mama.  Thanks again to Reagan Arthur  for providing me with a review copy of such a wonderful book!

For more information regarding the Reagan Arthur Books Challenge, click on the link and it will take you directly to the Challenge website. 

About the Author:
Eleanor Catton was born in 1985 in Canada, grew up in New Zealand, and is currently attending the Iowa Writers Workshop. Her highly acclaimed first novel, The Rehearsal, has been sold in 10 countries and will appear in the summer of 2010.

About the Book:
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books (May 17, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0316074330
ISBN-13: 978-0316074339

*FTC Statement: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.


bermudaonion said...

This sounds like it's very well done! I think it's probably my kind of book too. I'll add a link to the challenge blog.

Julie P. said...

Wow! What a ringing endorsement! I can't wait to read this one. Thanks for sharing!

Alison's Book Marks said...

As I said in my review, I don't think this book is for everyone, but I absolutely loved it!

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