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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling but somehow lacking
This is an intelligent book from a talented young writer, well crafted, precocious and original. it took me a while to get what was going on in terms of what was 'real' and what was being rehearsed. I could imagine studying or teaching this book and it being quite rewarding as there is so much to unravel, but ultimately I prefer a book with heart and emotion than...
Published on 1 April 2010 by Tamara L

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Themes of Illusion and Reality
Eleanor Catton's first novel is a self-consciously postmodernist story, dealing with a group of young (and not so young) people involved in the arts in an unnamed city in an unnamed country (presumably, from a remark made about winter being warm and sunny, Catton's native New Zealand). Skipping about over time - this is not a chronological novel - Catton tells us two...
Published 23 months ago by Kate Hopkins


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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling but somehow lacking, 1 April 2010
By 
Tamara L "Tamara" (North West England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Rehearsal (Hardcover)
This is an intelligent book from a talented young writer, well crafted, precocious and original. it took me a while to get what was going on in terms of what was 'real' and what was being rehearsed. I could imagine studying or teaching this book and it being quite rewarding as there is so much to unravel, but ultimately I prefer a book with heart and emotion than something that so self-consciously aims to be dazzling and stylistically clever. I've been working my way through the long list for the 2010 Orange prize. This is streets ahead of most of the other entries I've read and yet somehow I hope it doesn't win. She is clearly a writer to watch out for and I would certainly read next book. I might even come to eat my words.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I can't decide if this is genius, or just trying too hard to be clever, 19 April 2010
This review is from: The Rehearsal (Paperback)
The Rehearsal centres on a sex scandal involving a teacher and his pupil. The narrative travels forwards and backwards in time, following a group of pupils who gossip about the event and members of a drama school who decide to put on a play about the sex scandal.

The book is quite confusing to read, as you are never really sure which scenes are part of the play and which are `real'. I'd read about 50 pages of the book before I realised that chapters starting with a day of the week were about the school pupils and ones titled with a month were set in the drama school, but although this information helped a lot I was still confused about many things.

The book realistically portrays teenagers, managing to capture that uncertainty and awkwardness. I was particularly impressed by the insecurites of a younger sibling:

"No, Isolde says, `I will make the same mistakes, but by the time I do they won't seem interesting because you'll already have done it, and I'll only be a copy.'"

The teenage banter was witty and insightful, but the plot was almost non-existent. I was particularly disappointed by the ending, as the book just stopped without reaching any real conclusion.

I am still trying to decide if I liked The Rehearsal or not. I can't work out whether this book is genius, or just trying too hard to be clever. If The Rehearsal had been written in chronological order I suspect it might have been a fairly average read. Does confusing your readers make a book incredibly good, or does it just hide any flaws in a cloak of confusion? Despite my uncertainty The Rehearsal is the most impressive book I've found on the Orange long list so far and I'd be happy to see it win.

Overall I enjoyed reading this book for the individual passages, but it was too clever to work as a novel for me.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Themes of Illusion and Reality, 9 April 2013
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Rehearsal (Paperback)
Eleanor Catton's first novel is a self-consciously postmodernist story, dealing with a group of young (and not so young) people involved in the arts in an unnamed city in an unnamed country (presumably, from a remark made about winter being warm and sunny, Catton's native New Zealand). Skipping about over time - this is not a chronological novel - Catton tells us two intertwined stories, constantly teasing us by suggesting that part of the narratives may not be real at all, but fantasies on the part of the author or her characters. A large part of the book deals with a scandal at the prestigious girls' school Abbey Grange, where one of the pupils, Victoria, is found to have been having an underage relationship with her music teacher Mr Saladin. Mr Saladin (who we only meet very briefly) is immediately suspended, Victoria is removed from school and the pupils all sent for counselling. Several of them, including Victoria's pretty 15-year-old sister Isolde, confide their thoughts about the situation to their charismatic saxophone teacher, a woman with a romantic secret of her own. The saxophone teacher responds to Isolde's confidences by trying to set up a friendship between her and the lonely, intelligent and anarchic Julia, a pupil in Victoria's year. But soon, this friendship is becoming more intense than the girls bargained for. Meanwhile another of the saxophone teacher's pupils, a quiet, plain girl, broods miserably on her own undesirability, while Victoria continues to fantasize about her banished lover, and the saxophone teacher rages at the mothers of the pupils she is teaching. This story runs side by side with the story of Stanley, an intelligent shy boy who wins a place to study at the prestigious Institute of the Arts as an actor, and his struggles during his first year to succeed. It is hard for a while to see how the stories are connected - until we see Stanley and Isolde meet, and realize that news of the Mr Saladin scandal has reached the drama school students, who see its dramatic potential. As a couple of other reviewers have pointed out, there is no dramatic finale when the two stories converge - the novel reaches some kind of conclusion, but almost fizzles out in its final chapter - there is no real resolution, the character simply continue life, and don't even seem to have learnt that much from their experiences.

While this novel contained some fine writing, certainly, I found it overall rather forced and pretentious in tone. The hopping about in terms of time, and the constant playing with Hidden Inner Meanings and the Themes of Illusion and Reality (all popular themes in modern literature) didn't for me add anything to the story. The really moving elements in the book, and the interesting ones - Stanley's work in his first year at drama school, Julia and Isolde's growing attraction, Victoria's genuine love for her teacher, Julia's individuality, Stanley's feelings about his family - were never allowed to develop, because Catton kept jumping topic, or making us question what 'really happened' and what was 'fantasy' or 'the students acting'. Like a lot of very young writers (Bidisha in the 1990s was just the same), Catton loads her text with similes and metaphors, and while some of these were striking, all too often they came across as precious or sometimes downright ridiculous - from the opening page where the clarinet is described as a 'black and silver sperm' or 'tadpole to the saxophone', I was aware that this was a book that would irritate me in places. I also, on a deeper level, found a lot of the characters implausible. I've never met a music teacher like the one described here, and couldn't believe a saxophone teacher would spend so much of her time discussing her pupil's private lives in lessons (a singing teacher maybe, but Catton has clearly chosen the saxophone because it is a 'cool' instrument). I also found the saxophone teacher a vile character, supercilious and cold. Neither could I believe that so many of the principal girl characters were learning the saxophone - I felt Julia, in particular, would have probably chosen a different instrument! I also thought that it was ridiculous that a group of drama students devising a play would simply take a local news story and use it without altering any of the names or changing the story at all. It seemed odd that Catton kept going on about Stanley's father, but never mentioned his mother (who he lived with) or stepfather - and he seemed oddly passive for someone who'd chosen an acting career. I also found the decision to not name any of the authority figures but simply call them 'The Head of Acting', 'The Head of Movement' 'The Saxophone Teacher' etc rather obvious, and alienating. And the overall message that came out of the book - that it's a dog-eat-dog world where kindly emotions are unlikely to survive, and those with genuine feelings are likely to suffer profoundly - was deeply depressing. All this was a shame as some of the writing about theatre, and about being at a girls' school was very promising. But I felt that overall this was a rather cold book, and rather pleased with its own cleverness. Not one of my top reads, though I'll be interested to see what Catton does next.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'All the world's a stage': brilliantly quirky exploration of adolescence in a media age, 6 July 2009
By 
This review is from: The Rehearsal (Hardcover)
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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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I was captivated by the way this story was told., 28 Oct. 2011
This review is from: The Rehearsal (Hardcover)
What makes this story facinating is the way it is told. The basis - a sex scandal in a girls' school - is not particularly new. But this exploration is. There are different voices and one is never quite sure what is real and what is theatre. The characters are exquisitly drawn. In unusual ways the author reveals the familiar. If you have enjoyed books such as 'the Secret History' you will enjoy this!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Modern Fiction, 28 Aug. 2009
By 
MrsOsborne2013 "Legally_Lillywhite" (Nottingham, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Rehearsal (Hardcover)
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I have to admit to not being a modern fiction fan but the reviews I read for this book intrigued me, so I thought I would give it a go.

The main story is about a teacher/pupil sexual relationship and the affect it has on the school and her family. We find out the details of this relationship piecemeal through another teacher/pupil relationship, i.e. a saxophone teacher and her pupils, who are at the same school as the "victim".

I didn't find the book easy to read, it didn't seem to flow as it read more like a screenplay than a novel, and I raced through parts. Having said that, the writer has a flair for descriptions and it was entertaining overall, just not my cup of tea I guess
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's very clever, but nothing happens!, 11 Jan. 2015
This review is from: The Rehearsal (Paperback)
I don't read highly acclaimed authors very often; mostly because I end up hating the 'wonderful' novels. But every so often, I'll decide to try one out, just to see what the fuss is about.

And technically, The Rehearsal isn't a prize-winning book. Catton's more recent attempt, The Luminaries, is far more popular. So I thought I'd be safe, you see. (Hint: I wasn't).

Essentially The Rehearsal tells two parallel tales of a student-teacher sex scandal, and a prestigious Arts college's play. But it's just not as simple as that.

To start with, there are a fair few (rather forgettable) characters, several of whom are never actually named. The Rehearsal is told from the point of view of three teenage girls (Isolde, Julia, Bridget); one teenage boy (Stanley) and several music/drama teachers. While I'm sure juggling all of these unique speakers is a very clever technique, I just felt confused. Some of the characters weren't integral to the story, and were simply there to illustrate how much they didn't matter... which seems pointless to me. As for the other characters... I neither liked nor cared about them. They all had opinions which were simultaneously specific and vague. They were all flexible and forgettable.

That's the worst kind of character, don't you agree?

Stylistically, the quality of Catton's writing is beautiful. I can't fault her for her words; Catton's use of language is majestic. Which is an issue in itself: The Rehearsal revolves around teenagers discovering and questioning their sexuality, which is probably the least majestic time of any person's life. The juxtaposition (this is me proving I am actually clever by using big long words) of confused teenagers and such thoughtful language just didn't work for me. The language added an unnecessarily uncomfortable dimension to an already awkward book - which is probably the point, but it just didn't make for a pleasurable read.

My main issue about The Rehearsal is that Catton showed an awful lot of skill, but there was very little plot. Nothing really happened - many things were suggested, but would later turn out to be figments of imagination. A lot of the time I felt that Catton simply wanted to write a clever book, ignorant of the fact that it would make most readers question their own intelligence.

But then, I hear Catton is very well-regarded in many circles. Evidently I'm just terribly uncultured.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars School sex scandal turned into a complicated novel., 13 July 2014
By 
Lola (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Rehearsal (Kindle Edition)
After Eleanor Catton received Man Booker Prize 2013 for her second novel The Luminaries, I decided to acquaint myself with the author in chronological order, influenced by the fact the "The Rehearsal" received a lot of critical acclaim.

The book utilizes the material of a school sex scandal and turns it into a complicated novel. Constructed in a manner of jigsaw puzzle, with pieces slowly falling into place to form the picture (the students' play), the story jumps to different times and different characters, and the reader is often misled into thinking that a scene is real but it turns out to be its future staging. Personally, I found it tiring to keep track of months and days of the week, especially due to the fact that Ms Catton jumps through them a lot, and one scene sometimes takes one page, say, titled "Monday", and the next scene will take place in "October" - go figure it out.

"The Rehearsal" cleverly questions the role of the victim, the ravenous public interest that feeds on a scandal and the central figures of it and the multiple versions of an event. It also explores the age of adolescence, the essence of innocence and teenagers' desire and attraction to the taboos.

I am not shelving the book as poor, quite the opposite, it was written in precise and clever prose, but it simply wasn't my cup of tea. Beware, it demands reader's full attention. And I hear that this is Ms Catton's trademark approach to writing, as The Luminaries requires reader to draw charts of all the heroes to grasp and fully appreciate the novel. If you like to push your boundaries and occasionally prefer quirkiness and nonconformity to traditional narrative, this will be the book for you. I was not in the right frame of mind, this time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Experimental, implausible and confusing, 2 Jan. 2014
By 
This review is from: The Rehearsal (Paperback)
I read this book for my book group. Or rather I tried. I came to it having just finished "Sword Of Honour" by Evelyn Waugh. The extreme contrast did not help the experience. One book, a masterpiece borne out of a global conflict, the other an unfathomable enigma borne out of a scandal in a girl's school. One felt profound and insightful, the other experimental and confusing.

My initial impression was that the book was intriguing. Here's the saxophone teacher addressing a mother: "I require of all my students, that they are downy and pubescent, pimpled with sullen mistrust, and boiling away with private fury and ardour and uncertainty and gloom ... If I am to teach your daughter, you darling hopeless and inadequate mother, she must be moody and bewildered and awkward and dissatisfied and wrong."

Intrigue soon gave way to frustration. I lack the patience and the inclination to ponder the improbable, non-linear plot. I also lack the patience to work out what is real, what is imagined, and what it might all mean. The insurmountable hurdle was that I just could not care less about any of the characters. About halfway through I resorted to reading the plot summary on Wikipedia. Never a good sign. At that point, I started to skip ahead. I was invariably struck by the simple and accessible quality of the writing, but also how this was married to a tedious "plot" and dull characters.

Plenty of people love this book. Some of the scenes are intriguing, and the book is very well written, ultimately though its lack of credibility and coherence was distracting and annoying. I suspect the extent to which a reader might enjoy this book would largely depend on his or her tolerance for ambiguity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Illusions, games, role-plays; The art of mirrors and deception, 5 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: The Rehearsal (Paperback)
I have re-read Eleanor Catton's The Rehearsal, to see if I want to embark on The Luminaries, and am still not sure.

The Rehearsal is set primarily in a Drama School of the `break the person down in order to get at their truth' variety, and also in a girls' school, particularly amongst a group of girls who are learning to be saxophonists.

It is the story of a sexual relationship between a fifteen year old girl and her male teacher, and how that story sets off reverberations within her family, her peers and the wider community of the two schools. The taboo relationship between the girl and the teacher is then gets used to explore sexuality, overt and covert, power, youth and age, seduction and who seduces and who is seduced, and how, sexual games and the whole cannibalistic, voyeuristic nature of performance.

As the `true' story of the girl and her teacher gets used as the springboard for a play, performed by a group of First Year Drama Students, the wheels within wheels nature of this book, the simultaneous stories jumping backwards and forwards, dizzyingly, between the girls' school, their saxophone lessons (and all the cultural accretion that instrument holds) and the drama school, becomes more and more tangled, more and more illusion within illusion. Catton constructs a house of deliberate artifice, a mind game between writer and reader

Catton is a remarkably clever writer, she is a conceptual writer, like a conceptual artist. A writer about, a writer who comments on the illusion of art, performance, writing itself. A writer who comments on the fact that we are all illusionists, mask wearers, performance artists.

Reading her work though I have that uneasy sense that conceptual art itself often brings me, where found objects, or objects and images which are generated by software writing, computer generated, fulfil one of the major functions of art - to make us notice - but lack some indefinable, energetic quality of the soulfulness, heartfulness in the direct transmission of the artist themselves creating something into being through the craft of their hands getting down and dirty and fine with brush, pen, colour mixing.

To put it another way - bread made in a bread machine - or something extra in bread made by hand.

What has this to do with Catton, who after all created the words, the idea, the story. And skilfully too? Somehow, as a reader, I found myself at a remove from her creation. Admiring of her craft, pondering the cleverness of plays within plays, characters playing characters, a veritable series of carefully crafted interlocking Chinese boxes. But what for me was lacking, despite her very very accurate unpicking of adolescent insecurity, that time above all else of the trying on of masks to see which one is the best fitting to grow into, was the sense of the real, visceral nature of her characters.

In a novel about performance, should there not be moments when suddenly one `comes real'? Despite the fact that I guess we all have a director in our heads, an observer of ourselves, we all, also, have moments when we are properly present, properly within ourselves, being. There is perhaps a little too much unremitting self-consciousness here.

Cool intelligence, clear observation, wit, invention, but no sense (for this reader) of Catton engaging inside the turbulent blood, guts, heart and viscera of her characters. Because I could not sense the writer being inside the feeling other, but only had the sense as of a clinical psychologist professionally disengaged, I, too, was not taken inside suffering or ecstatic humanity. An interesting mind game (there is a more earthy description!) but I stayed within my own cool head, ultimately disengaged from connection,

For this reader, MUCH to admire; little to warm-heartedly love. I recommend whole-headedly this from my Inner Cool Sophisticate, to yours. But if what you want from writing is that `only connect' that transcends the tiny individual and gives that sense of expanded horizon, that greater understanding `felt in the blood and felt along the heart', this is not that.
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The Rehearsal
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton
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