Joshua Ferris calls it the “future of the novel” and even lit-world curmudgeons are lining up to heap praise. Eleanor Catton’s debut, The Rehearsal, finds the 23-year-old Kiwi author toying bravely with narrative and form to conjure the hormonal aftermath of a high school sex scandal. Suffused with tense music lessons and drama-club drama, The Rehearsal depicts life as performance with both sadness and wit.
To celebrate the emergence of this provocative young voice, Flavorpill is teaming up with independent publishing house GRANTA and London’s School of Life to launch The Rehearsal Project Short-Film Contest. Click through for complete contest details and an exclusive interview, check out an advance peek at the novel, and don’t forget to sign up for Flavorpill.
In the run-up to The Rehearsal‘s July launch, we’re seeking out film or digital shorts that touch on the broad theme of “life as performance.” We’ll be posting our favorites on Flavorpill through the month, with the winner to be decided by a high profile judging panel and announced at the School of Life on July 23 and worldwide through Flavorpill.
How to take part in The Rehearsal Project:
• Create a film or digital short of up to three minutes that relates to the idea of “life as performance.”
• Upload your short to any video-hosting site or tag existing work with “The Rehearsal Project.”
• Email us the link to your video! / shorts [at] flavorpill [dot] com
• The winner will be selected by our panel of judges and announced in association with The School of Life in London on July 23 and worldwide through Flavorpill. Submit early, as we’ll post our favorites on the blog over the next few weeks. Entries are due by noon on July 21.
• Click here for full terms and conditions.
We recently caught up with Eleanor Catton to discuss her own high-school experience, reveal her in-progress fantasy series, and suggest an alternative career path (hint: it involves rocking out).
Flavorpill: The Rehearsal vividly captures high school as a Pandora’s Box, which the central scandal flings wide open. How were those years for you? Do you still feel close to the person you were then?
Eleanor Catton: I was quite restless at high school, and impatient with myself, which I suppose must be true of most teenagers. I never really found a niche — in my first couple of years I sculled in a coxed quad, in my middle years I got involved in music, and in my last year I discovered a real love for drama. All of those phases were really intense and full-time, which meant that I got to explore different social contexts, and different sides of myself.
I went to a co-ed high school (the high school in The Rehearsal is a single-sex girls’ school) which was fairly conservative despite being secular, and very disapproving of any kind of original behavior or outrageousness. When I was in sixth form I started dating a boy whom the school classified as a kind of “bad boy.” I was a prefect by that stage, and I’d always done well academically, and some of my teachers made it clear that they thought it was a rather bad match. That experience retrospectively reshaped my impression of the school — I became very critical of the elitism there, and the pressure to succeed. Now that I look back on it, I wish that I’d protested some of those attitudes a little more strongly. I wish I’d misbehaved more. It wasn’t until I was an undergraduate that I gained enough confidence to really misbehave. I did leave high school a year early, as a kind of protest — as a statement of exasperation, at least — and I’m glad that I left when I did.
I don’t really feel close to the person I was then, although I do remember my agonies and ecstasies very fondly. I felt inwardly paralyzed a lot of the time in high school, and it took a good few years of living in the world to unlock that paralysis. In a lot of ways I think ‘The Rehearsal’ was a kind of exorcism. Writing the novel helped me process my own various rites of passage, and leave a version of myself behind.
FP: The novel is suffused with other artistic mediums, especially music and theatre. Is fiction your chosen path? Do you follow other muses, or wish you did?
EC: I’ve always loved film and theatre. I’ve done a bit of acting for the stage, but nothing very special, and nothing at all since I turned my full attention to writing. I think that I’ve become more self-conscious as I’ve gotten older, which is weird to me, because I’m pretty sure that self-consciousness is something that a person is meant to lose. As an undergraduate I got into filmmaking in a big way — acting and scripting, mostly, although I’ve had the occasional flirtation with directing and editing. I really adore the process of putting a film together- collaborating with other creative minds is really exciting to me. Writing is so solitary. I miss the intensity of togetherness that comes with working on a group project, and the shared artifact of the film itself once the project is done. I would love to go back to that world again.
FP: You’ve mentioned previously that this book was written “in a bit of a fever.” Are you concerned about the challenge of recapturing that feeling as you write new work, or do you sense your process changing?
EC: The project that I’ve given the most time to since finishing The Rehearsal is a quartet of fantasy novels set in seventeenth-century Britain. Moving into a totally different genre was really necessary for me: I found that I needed to sever ties with The Rehearsal completely, and change gears. A few months after I finished it I was still writing with a kind of hangover, and everything I wrote sounded like I was (lamely) trying to rip off my own style.
I took so many notes for The Rehearsal, and I read very selectively and obsessively, often devoting whole days of research just to find the particular metaphor or image that suited my mood at the time. Research is a really important phase in the writing process for me. I need to collect an entire lexicon, a whole pool of related words and phrases that excite me or inspire me in some way, before I can even begin. This fantasy project has been like that — I took hundreds of pages of notes before I wrote anything at all. At present I’m still gathering words for my next literary novel, a kind of science-fiction story set in 1860s New Zealand, but I think that my lexical cauldron is filling up.
FP: If you came across The Rehearsal in a bookstore (and hadn’t written it yourself!), why would you want to read it? Is there a particular aspect of the novel that you think works best?
EC: There’s so much of me in The Rehearsal, so it’s hard to think about it objectively — really it’s just an extended interrogation of all the obsessions that I’ve had in the last few years. If I saw it in a bookstore I’d probably wonder if the author had been tailing me for the last few years without my knowing, and taking notes. That would probably freak me out.
I am always drawn to fiction which meditates upon an idea, and so I think that I would be drawn to the way that The Rehearsal wraps itself around ideas of performance and performativity. I think I’m most proud of the novel’s form — the way in which its form is inseparable from its subject.
FP: If you could reinvent yourself by performing an entirely different life, who would you be?
EC: Writing presents a massive opportunity for reinvention, and because I’m able to escape into other people’s heads so often, I don’t really feel trapped by my own personality in any limiting way. If I had to choose an entirely different life, though, I’d like to be some kind of a musician. I’m in awe of people for whom music is a kind of sixth sense, who can just feel their way into a piece of music and understand its living heart. I’d like to be able to pick up a guitar at a party and take requests.