This astonishing debut novel from young New Zealander Eleanor Catton is a cause for surprise and celebration: smart, playful and self-possessed, it has the glitter and mystery of the true literary original. Though its impulses and methods can only be called experimental, the prose is so arresting, the storytelling so seductive, that wherever the book falls open it’s near-impossible to put down.

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. It’s astounding that The Rehearsal was written by a 22-year-old, though fitting that this talented young writer should evoke so well the charged emotional landscape before adult compromise, when a girl’s ambition and desire are not yet «circumscribed by the limits of what she has known, what she has experienced, what she has felt»; when it feels as though anything is possible.