The Pequod Review:
Eleanor Catton’s enormous talent is immediately apparent in her debut novel, The Rehearsal, a book with masterful observations on nearly every page:
She is a loner, too bright for the slutty girls and too savage for the bright girls, haunting the edges and corners of the school like a sullen disillusioned ghost.
“I’ve been looking at all the ordinary staples of flirting," says Julia, "like biting your lip and looking away just a second too late, and laughing a lot and finding every excuse to touch, light fingertips on a forearm or a thigh that emphasize and punctuate the laughter. I’ve been thinking about what a comfort these things are, these textbook methods, precisely because they need no decoding, no translation. Once, a long time ago, you could probably bite your lip and it would mean, I am almost overcome with desiring you. Now you bite your lip and it means, I want you to see that I am almost overcome with desiring you, so I am using the plainest and most universally accepted symbol I can think of to make you see. Now it means, Both of us know the implications of my biting my lip, and what I am trying to say. We are speaking a language, you and I together, a language that we did not invent, a language that is not unique to our uttering. We are speaking someone else’s lines. It’s a comfort.”
The girls at Abbey Grange are forever defining each other, tenderly and savagely and sometimes out of spite. It is a skill that will be sharpened to a blade by the finish of their fifth and final year. It is the darkest and deadliest of their arts, that each girl might construct or destroy the image of any of the rest.
They say, Who do you think is most likely to marry first? and Who do you think will get with the most boys? and Who is most likely to cheat? and Who will be best in bed? and then, inevitably, Who is most likely to be a lesbian, out of all the girls in our form?
The last question is always met with shrieks and slaps and a swift intake of merry breath. In their minds they weigh up the girls with the least conquests, the girls currently not in their favor, the girls that are marginally less attractive than the rest. Unpopularity, silence, bookish introversion, any disinclination to follow in the footsteps of the flock—all these are symptoms, the girls agree, as they huddle round to diagnose. They shout out names and laugh and laugh like a coven of giddy witches casting a terrible fate.
The book's overall narrative (involving the aftermath of a high school sex scandal) doesn’t really rise above these enormously inventive sentences. But it is no surprise that she would later pull it all together in her 2013 masterpiece, The Luminaries.