The Rehearsal (novel)

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The Rehearsal
The Rehearsal front cover image.jpg
Author Eleanor Catton
Country New Zealand
Language English
Genre Novel
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 317 pp (HB Granta edition)
ISBN ISBN 978-1-84708-116-2 (HB Granta edition)
OCLC 319211192

The Rehearsal is the debut novel by Eleanor Catton. It was released by Victoria University Press in New Zealand in 2008. The Rehearsal was later bought by Granta Books in the UK and released there in July 2009.

Plot summary[edit]

In the aftermath of a local scandal involving a young female student, Victoria's affair with her music teacher Mr Saladin, the novel follows the effects on several different characters using a non linear plot.

Isolde, Victoria's sister, tries to resume normal life at school and becomes intrigued by fellow student Julia who in the counselling sessions provided by the school deliberately provokes the counsellor by defending the affair. Isolde and Julia both are taught by a private Saxophone teacher who obsessively follows their lives while regretting her own failed love affair with her friend Patsy. Bridget a depressed and awkward student is also taught by the Saxophone teacher who openly declares Bridget her least favourite student.

Consecutive with this story is local boy Stanley who enrols in the prestigious Institute (a drama school) and soon becomes obsessed with proving himself. Their final piece is to be improvised and the students decide to base their performance on the local scandal, unaware of Isolde's true identity Stanley and Isolde begin to develop a relationship. Bridget dies in a sudden car accident but she is swiftly forgotten when Victoria returns to school.

The Saxophone teacher tries to sabotage Stanley and Isolde's relationship by informing the Institute who quickly make the connection between the final piece and Isolde's identity. The Head of Acting has to reveal to a horrified Stanley who Isolde really is but it is too late to stop the performance. Skipping out on her own saxophone recital and abandoning Julia, Isolde comes with her family to surprise Stanley on his first night.

The novel ends with Victoria and Julia talking in their common room, and Victoria suspiciously questions Julia about what went on between her and Isolde, finishing by 'I'd be happy if you told me just enough of the facts so I could imagine it. So I could recreate it for myself. So I could imagine I was really there'.


The Rehearsal describes theatric technique in great detail and uses what Catton describes as "themes of performance and performativity".[1]

Critical reaction[edit]

The initial reaction in New Zealand was positive, but with reservations. Louise O'Brien in the Listener[2] wrote of, "a new talent who has arrived fully formed, with an accomplished, confident and mature voice. This is a startling novel, striking and strange and brave." However, O'Brien thought that characterisation impaired the reader’s emotional involvement.

The Rehearsal received positive overseas reviews. Ed Caesar in The Times[3] speaks of The Rehearsal as imperfect, but praises “a starburst of talent”. Author Joshua Ferris called it "a glimpse into the future of the novel itself".

The novel also won a range of awards including the 2007 Adam Award in Creative Writing,[4] the 2009 Betty Trask Award[5] and 2009 New Zealand Society of Authors Hubert Church (Montana) Best First Book Award for Fiction.[6]


Wolfe, Graham. “Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal: Theatrical Fantasy and the Gaze.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature (2015). Forthcoming.