An extraordinarily clever first novel that manages to blend black comedy, romantic drama and critical musings on the nature of performance and reality. Does this sound like an odd blend? It is, but it works!
Deeply unusual and quirky, The Rehearsal centres around a high school sex scandal that becomes the fodder for a drama school play. Private lives tangle with public performance, and the scandal and its effects play out in the whole community. What's real and what's performance? It's sometimes hard to tell, but the sharply witty dialogue and the oddly compelling (but not always appealing!) characters keep you intrigued and guessing how the two will collide.
I have to say that, had I not read this book, I would be sceptical about the whole premise. It sounds a bit too 'clever clever'. And yet - The Rehearsal makes for a great read; it's gripping, funny, smart and moving at the same time.
Catton's novel is filled with drama tutors who are acutely aware of their own performances; insecure adolescents grappling with their sexuality and social lives at the same time; and teachers who manipulate their students, like puppets, for murky (and sometimes suspect!) motives. The most alarmingly odd and compelling character, a saxophone teacher whose commentary pervades the book, pronounces that young adulthood is merely a "rehearsal for everything that comes after".
Sharply drawn characters, a compelling plot and atmospheric dialogue makes this an excellent read. The Rehearsal is definitely unusual and fairly literary (as you might expect, as it's published by Granta) but it's also a funny, poignant and highly relevant contemporary look at what it means to grow up in the media-dominated 21st century.