Eleanor Catton: Rehearsal


The latest addition to my website is Eleanor Catton‘s Rehearsal. This is a superb debut novel about performance and imagined performance, about the power of gossip and power in relationships, about who we really we are and who we think we are and about how the younger generation is changing, presumably in New Zealand though it could equally apply to any Western country. It tells two stories that will converge. The first concerns Mr. Saladin, a teacher of jazz band at a girls’ school who has an affair with Victoria, one of his under-age students and the repercussions this affair has on the other girls, the girl’s family, particularly her younger sister, and the community. Catton brilliantly portrays these repercussions in an original manner, exemplified by the (female) saxophone teacher, who comments, almost like a Greek chorus, on the events. The other story concerns a Drama Institute, which is very difficult to get into, and which uses challenging techniques to get the students to recognise who they are and how to become actors. It is primarily seen through the eyes of one of the students, Stanley, a somewhat solitary young man with a psychologist father who tells politically incorrect jokes about pedophilia. Stanley is conventional but sometimes challenges the status quo, as does Julia, a saxophone player in the other story, a loner who befriends Victoria’s sister. It is a complex novel, superbly written, clearly showing the maturity and expertise of a much more experienced writer.

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