Learn more Download now Shop now Browse your favorite restaurants Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Amazon Music Unlimited for Family Shop now Shop now Learn more

Format: Paperback|Change
Price:£8.46+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime

on 19 April 2010
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.
33 Comments| 17 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 19 October 2010
I understand those reviewers who feel bewildered by this book because it is a very modernist, experimental experience. One is not expected to take the majority of the dialogue as what was actually said. It is more an indication of feelings and ideas inherent to the particular character. At times it reads (with the lighting information especially) like a playscript, and at others it uses archetypes (Head of Acting, Head of Movement, etc.) to move the text around within its proscribed parameters. Not an easy read between the lines, or even on the page. The action coalesces between Isolde, whose older sister Victoria has been the subject of a scandal - an accusation of abuse has been made against a teacher. The saxophone teacher introduces two of her pupils, one of whom, Julia, has been accused of lesbianism. Isolde is a friend of both Julia and Stanley, who is at the nearby Institute of the Dramatic Arts.

The verbal pyrotechnics often work against this novel in making it difficult to identify with some characters - the saxophone teacher, for instance, who is a bit of a monster and whose antipathy towards her pupil's mothers seems virulent, not to mention her acute sexual frustration. Or is that meant to be Julia's point of view? It is conflated. The experimental agenda interferes in any clear-cut verdict. But that, in a way is the point. The depths of feeling must be plumbed in order to produce the entertainment. The hushed awe of the audience is endemic to this novel.

Hardly an unadulterated pleasure to read, therefore, but with moments of brilliant insight. Stanley's reaction to the Theatre of Cruelty demonstration, for instance, as well as Bridget's (another saxophonist) moments with Mr Saladin in the video shop. But the novel has a heartless quality too - Bridget suffers from this, chosen almost inevitably to be the "one who dies", fulfilling Stanley's father's prediction. Some interesting games are played, some sensualities teased out and tormented a little, as this turns into an amusingly provoking read. It's not as clever as it thinks it is, however, as the ending fails to draw the artful premises to any kind of a conclusion. It looks like a failure of nerve to me, which is a pity and I wish it had been held until the literal curtain call.
22 Comments| 11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 April 2013
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.
11 Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 5 November 2013
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.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 June 2017
Initially I was finding this story quite readable - perhaps surprisingly so as I often don't like the writing style of authors who win the Booker Prize. But although it is wordy, I found it interesting. There are two storylines, told in alternating chapters. In one, a school sex scandal is uncovered through the eyes of three teenage girls telling their saxophone teacher about it. In the other, a boy called Stanley auditions for a prestigious drama school. Eventually the two stories interlink.

It's an odd story which mixes up theatre and reality, to the extent that for the first half of the book I thought the whole girls' school plot was actually a production being put on by the drama school. I'm not sure if that's because the author intends to mislead her readers into thinking that, or if I was just a bit dim and didn't see her literary high jinks for what they were. Once I realised this was in fact 'real life' I quickly lost patience. The dialogue is dreadful, so pretentious. No one, and I mean absolutely no one, in real life talks the way these characters do. The book starts to drag and loses pace after a promising start. A major event halfway through is brushed aside. Endless meditations on attraction and desire drone on for pages and pages.

It ends up feeling very fake, and very dull. You can't lose yourself in the story, because it's constantly being thrust in your face that a story is all it is. It needed a really good editing to get rid of a lot of the repetitive stuff about attraction etc. The writing is showy and tries too hard, to use a theatre analogy it's like a really hammy actor overplaying. The idea behind it is admittedly clever, but so pretentiously executed it's unbearable. If you like books that are written for the sake of writing, and want to read words for the sheer fascination of sentence building, you might like this. Readers who don't want the writer's literary showing off to get in the way of a decent storyline and characters you can relate to, should steer clear.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 28 March 2014
I only gave this book a one star rating on Goodreads and I wasn't happy to give a one star rating to a book such as this. I won't give it an Amazon one star rating - I don't hate it. None of the other 'star' ratings reflect my feelings. So why the one and three star ratings. Because I really didn't enjoy 'The Rehearsal'. I struggled with it. I actually began it before Christmas. And read several other books while this one was still on the go.

What kept me reading?

Bloody mindedness and because it was a birthday present and I felt I should at least finish it. Because it was a debut novel, an award winning debut novel from someone who went on to win the Booker. Because I kept hoping that something would actually happen. I perked up a bit when there was a death, but that fizzled out. Indeed this is a book with virtually no plot whatsoever.

Although I thought it might be a bad idea, I decided to read some other Amazon and Goodreads reviews before writing my own. I'm so glad I did. While I was somewhat daunted by the plethora of five stars (what's wrong with me with my one star?) I was reassured not only by the amount of three stars but by the reviews themselves. So many other reviewers confessed themselves to be confused and confounded - with several saying they still don't know what they feel about it. This fits with my reactions too.

The book is beautifully written. The concept (some might say the conceit) is original. Eleanor Catton weaves the narrative skilfully though in saying narrative I really mean the thoughts of the characters for there is absolutely no narrative drive through the book. No story to speak of except at the very end when the characters 'stories' - for want of a better word - merge and it looks as if something will actually happen. But it doesn't. We're back inside people's heads.

I would have enjoyed the book more if I had really cared about the characters. Apart from Stanley, they left me cold, though I had a sneaking regard for Isolde and Julia, which I lost as the book progressed. As for the saxophone teacher - give me strength. I wanted to shake her!

We come back to the question, why on earth did I go on reading? It comes down to admiration for the concept, the fact that better people than I seemed to think it worthwhile, because I really hoped there would be some story at some point (and there nearly was). The writing is clever and precise and a pleasure to read. Stanley is endearing - indeed the only parts that came alive for me were the chapters set in the Actors' Institute. In many ways this is a five star book for me - parts of it were amazing, the concept is amazing, the writing is amazing. I just didn't enjoy the whole - but like the curate's egg, parts of it were brilliant.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 August 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
If you are the type of person who wants their novels to start at the beginning, build character and plot before coming to a satisfying "they all lived happily ever after" ending, then avoid this book at all costs. You will hate it. But I cannot remember when I last enjoyed a book as much as this one. For a first novel, it is ambitious, daring and complex, and yet it works beautifully. I would not be surprised if this wins a number of awards this year - it has all the ingredients that the award-givers seem to love.

The basis for the story is a scandal at a school involving a music teacher, Mr Saladin, and Victoria, the elder sister of one of the main characters, Isolde. This impact of this event is viewed both from the point of view of the girls at the school, and also as the basis for an end of year drama production by the local drama Institute. The two stories start separately, but inevitably mesh as the book progresses. The drama school bit is arguably a bit of a stretched conceit, but this is forgivable as the author explores the concepts of reality and performance. But this is just one of the aspects of this book.

Was the errant Mr Saladin any worse than the dark and mysterious "saxophone teacher" whose attempts to control and interfere with her charges appears at times more sinister than Mr Saladin's sexual urges. But her habit of speaking exactly what she thinks is hilarious at times. And the author's psychological insights into the fears of teenagers growing up are beautifully observed. And how does the media (in this case a play) reflect reality - and does reality exist - and how much of it is performance (as Shakespeare once noted), and so much more....

There's dark humour aplenty mixed with the fears and excitement of growing up. It is a very difficult book to describe - the voices sound real in an unreal way. The closest I can get to explaining it is a line given by the Head of Acting at the drama Institute who likens plays to the ancient Greek god statues - they are not meant to be representative but they allow you a point of access that seems real. If that sounds pretentious mumbo-jumbo, that is what makes this book so excellent - it is such a complex tapestry of a story that it could easily have come over as pseudo-high brow and pretentious, but it doesn't largely because it's told with humour and sympathy. The characters, while not all likeable, are all easy to sympathise with and all are clearly drawn. It's not an easy book to start, but after ten pages, I was hooked and it's the kind of book that you can re-read and get more out of. And the more you read, the more it rings in your head, like a piece of classical music the phrases and stories are inter-woven.

I can see why some will hate this book (there is little in the way of direct narrative, the time scenes jump around, and some of the voices are far from naturalistic), but it is one of the most innovative and intricate books I've read in a long while and as a first novel it is astonishingly adept. I will be recommending this book to everyone.
11 Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 11 January 2015
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.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
VINE VOICEon 11 September 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There is much to admire in this book but I never really got engaged with it in an emotional way. I think this is because it is just a little too knowing - a little too aware of its own "performance". The novel is the story of a performance (or rather the preparation and rehearsal for a performance) and all of the characters are very obviously "performing". As a central conceit it is quite clever, and certainly works very well for a novel largely about adolescents and young adults, but eventually the artificiality of it got on my nerves. Also, I found the lack of real resolution at the end quite annoying. Finally, I have to admit that as a father of a young daughter I'm not that comfortable with a story involving a 17 year old having an affair with her teacher, or her 15 year old sister having a relationship with a 19 your old. Indeed, given the sympathetic and non-judgemental portrayal of the affair you have to wonder whether the author would have been published if, instead of being a young woman, she'd been a middle aged man.

That said, I wouldn't get too het up about the subject matter. Although the central events of the novel relate to the sexual activity and sexual orientation of school girls, this is all rather secondary in a novel that, to me, seems to be about identity, presentation and performance. It captures the self-obsessed victimhood of teenagers perfectly, almost savagely. It explores the way adolescents and young adults are constantly performing different roles, acting out being who they think they want to be.

Catton is clearly an acute observer and a talented writer. They way the time shifts are handled and the twin stories of the scandal and the play about the scandal are told and brought together is remarkably well handled - especially given that the author is so young. However, despite all this, to me this was a novel that was admirable but to engaging. I like to become immersed in a novel - to really care about the characters and the story. If not, and all I get is admiration for clever writing, then I prefer to be amused (eg in the way I am by Calvino). This novel was neither engrossing nor sufficiently amusing for me. It was good, and clever, and I will probably read her next book, but if it is not more emotionally compelling than this one I probably won't read her third.
11 Comment| 10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 13 July 2014
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.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse

Need customer service? Click here