Sunday, September 14, 2014

Abandoning The Rehearsal

Abandoning a book is never easy. Abandoning a book a mere fifty pages from its end? Pretty much unprecedented for me. I was looking forward to reading Eleanor Catton's The Rehearsal quite a bit - I consider Catton's sophomore effort The Luminaries as one of the best books I've read this year - but from the first page, I felt like the book wasn't for me.

You know how I often say that I don't like present tense writing? There's actually a reason for that. Present tense writing can be a brilliant literary tool when properly applied (for a tense narrative, a sense of immediacy, etc.), but it's usually just used lazily as another format. When used lazily, it often gets muddled with past-tense comments. And there is almost nothing I hate in literature so much as switches between past and present tense in a narrative.

So not only is most of The Rehearsal written in present tense that often slips back into past tense... it also explicitly switches to past tense in different areas.

Deliberate literary technique applied by Catton? Obviously. Mark of a clever, thoughtful writing? Probably. Extremely annoying? Definitely.

On top of hating the writing style, I also realized fairly quickly that I hated the clever structure. Catton's writing is clearly experimental here, similar to her structural games in The Luminaries. But in her second book, Catton does a good job of using her base structure fairly subtly - you don't have to become immersed in it to appreciate the story. In The Rehearsal, the back-and-forth style, the vagueness, and the saxophone-teacher frame story are all very bluntly applied. There was no way to escape from Catton's experimentation, nowhere to hide.

Oh, and all the characters were distinctly unsympathetic. Kind of purposely, I guess. But I wanted to smack each and every one of them. And by the time I was fifty pages from the end, I realized that I didn't care one whit what happened to these people, or to their droll lives. The book went back to the library incomplete, and I am frankly happy to be rid of it.

2 comments:

  1. Good thing Catton isn't a "woman in translation" for you, Meytal, or that would have been quite the resounding smackdown from you. Eh, maybe it was anyway. Thanks for the warning, though, and for the plug about Catton's The Luminaries (I had a similarly extreme yes/no reaction to the only two Murakami novels I've read, by the way).

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  2. God, I forgot Eleanor Catton wrote The Rehearsal. I read that -- and didn't care for it -- but since I've read The Luminaries too, I've got her associated in my mind with that now, instead of with The Rehearsal. No judgment from me for your abandoning it!

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