I was a little hesitant to read Eleanor Catton's debut novel The Rehearsal -- she was in her very early twenties when she wrote it and the praise on the back of the book seemed as overblown as it usually is for a new writer. (And for old ones, for that matter.) But I cracked the thing open and started in. A character called the saxophone teacher was refusing to take on a new student in dialogue that seemed ludicrously florid. "Let me put it this way," the teacher says, "a film of soured breast milk clutches at your daughter like a shroud." I might have actually rolled my eyes at that point. I told myself to give the thing ten pages.
Five or six pages in, I was hooked. This is a brilliant and unusual book, written in an experimental style and peopled with characters that actually have depth and layers. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that the book is about performance -- students at a drama school put on a play about a recent sex abuse scandal at a neighbouring school for girls, which perfectly allows for an exploration of how adolescents begin to consciously shape, or perform, their personalities. In the video I've posted above, the very young Eleanor Catton talks about how the novel came about.
Although I cannot find it anywhere -- perhaps it was just for a blurb? -- apparently Joshua Ferris wrote somewhere that the book is "as if Miss Jean Brodie got lost in Barth's funhouse." If you are the kind of person that description appeals to, you will love this book. If you are the kind of person that description would turn off, there's still a good chance you will love this book.