Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
Eleanor Catton’s second novel The Luminaries was amazing in many ways. Not only was the story captivating, the historical aspects were interesting and the construction of the book was complicated. Catton’s first book The Rehearsal is also clever and captivating. In The Rehearsal we have two stories of teenagers told in alternating sections and eventually becoming entwined.
Central themes are sexuality, the arbitrary legal boundary between adolescence and adulthood, friendship and rivalry, teacher-student connections and families. Catton was in her early 20s when the book was published so she was well placed to remember and reflect on these topics, that get increasingly hazy as we grow older.
The central characters seemed real to me. Stanley, the acting school student, was realistically unlikable. Isolde, the 15 year old student of an all girls school and saxophone student, was realistically adrift as she struggled with public scandal and sexuality. The saxophone teacher was perplexing and at the very end I wondered if her cutting remarks to her pupils and their mother’s were actually her thoughts as she played her saxophone. Julia, the older teen from the same girls school and student of the same saxophone teacher, was as tough and vulnerable as I’ve observed in ostracized girls.
Some of the caustic lines bythe saxophone teacher made me want to capture and discuss them with friends
“I am never quite sure,” the saxophone teacher says, “what is truly meant when the mothers say, I want my daughter to experience what was denied to me.
“In my experience the most forceful and aggressive mothers are always the least inspired, the most unmusical of souls, all of them profoundly unsuccessful women who wear their daughter’s image on their breast like a medal, like a bright deflection from their own unshining selves. When these mothers say, I want to fully experience everything that was denied to me, what they really mean is, I want her to fully appreciate everything that was denied to me. What they rightly mean is, The paucity of my life will only be thrown into relief if my daughter has everything. On its own, my life is ordinary and worthless and nothing. But if my daughter is rich in experience and rich in opportunity, then people will come to pity me: the smallness of my life and my options will not be incapacity; it will be sacrifice. I will be pitied more, and respected more, if I raise a daughter who is everything that I am not.
Thanks to Kirsty the blogger for bringing this captivating book to my attention!
I will close by sharing this excerpt from a review in the Guardian newspaper.
There is so much to enjoy and admire in this book: a razor-sharp sense of her characters’ self-love; a wonderful ear for the rhythms of language, both everyday and heightened; a generous apprehension of the power and processes of theatre and music; a fond comedy of the ridiculousness of teachers (especially the “hopping and red-faced and puffing” Miss Clark, demonstrating the flexibility of condoms by stretching one over her sensible shoe). And, of course, dazzling authorial control.
What did you think of this book? Could you understand more than I did?!