From Publishers Weekly
Theater, says one of the characters in Catton's shrewd if turgid debut, is a concentrate
of life as normal. This idea must be embraced in order to enjoy a novel in which the characters speak and act as if on stage. The girls at the Abbey Grange school are shocked by an affair between a teacher and a student, but Catton aptly observes that they are mostly disappointed by being only peripherally involved in such delicious drama. The girls confide in their saxophone teacher, a puppet-mistress straight out of Notes on a Scandal
, who becomes intent on orchestrating a relationship between two of the girls when not delivering monologues on teaching and the psychology of teenage girls. A subplot follows bland first-year drama student Stanley and his increasing involvement with a group of Abbey Grange students focused on staging a play that will also provide a convenient narrative collision point. The novel's real subject is the performance of human life, and in this respect, Catton's choice of adolescent girls and drama students is apt, though the cast is limiting and their revelations repetitive. It's a good piece of writing, but not an especially enjoyable novel. (May)
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*Starred Review* Written as her master’s thesis in creative writing, New Zealand author Catton’s first novel was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. Considering the author was only in her early twenties when she wrote it, The Rehearsal is a tour de force that tells two stories simultaneously while delighting in doubles, parallels, and couples. The first story is of the sexual abuse of a high-school girl by her adult (male) music coach; the second is of how a neighboring drama school adopts this incident as the dramatic core of its year-end performance. Performance is the operative word here, for the two stories, which gradually come together, are presented scenically (some complete with stage directions) with dialogue that is less human speech than declamation or dramatic monologue. Readers are invited to consider that adolescence is a rehearsal for adulthood, various characters trying on personae and emerging sexual identities as they might costumes for a performance. Linking the girls’ stories is their female saxophone teacher, a powerfully realized character who serves as surrogate analyst and stage manager of their lives. That scenes are often presented nonchronologically, plus the fact that the line between performance and reality grows increasingly blurred, renders this a challenging and sometimes overintellectualized read, but the combination of beautiful writing and inventive, nontraditional structure still make it a dazzling debut. --Michael Cart