I’ve been meaning to write about Eleanor Catton’s ‘the Rehearsal‘ since reading it last month. It’s already won several major prizes and was shortlisted for this year’s Dylan Thomas prize and no wonder: it’s one of the best novels I’ve read all year and is amongst the best I’ve read ever.
It’s an amazing and absorbing experience. Artificial, oddly-constructed and oblique, it’s beautifully written and wise beyond the youth of the author who’s only 25 now and who must have been just about 21 when she wrote it.
The plot, such as it is, concerns a group of schoolgirls dealing with the aftermath of a fellow student’s affair with a teacher and a group of drama students coming to terms with what the craft they’re learning. The point of connection is an extra-curricular music class.
But the plot isn’t a great help. The novel is really an extended meditation using the form of a narrative but which repeats and refracts a handful of thoughts and episodes so that as the reader you chew them over and taste them differently each time.
You’re never sure where the ‘real’ story starts and the staged production ends. The spoken language is angular and poetic even in episodes that must be part of the ‘real’ story. At times when you think you know you’re in the ‘real’ story, it becomes clear a new character is now being ‘played’ by a previous character.
To be honest, I’ve been a bit disparaging about the lack of ambition and ability in a lot of new writing in recent years. This has restored my faith and bodes very well for the future.