This was one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a very long time. It is certainly not for everyone – the subject matter will put off some, whiThis was one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in a very long time. It is certainly not for everyone – the subject matter will put off some, while the innovative narrative structure may frustrate others expecting a traditionally linear story arc.
However, if you are sometimes more intrigued by the way a tale is told than the events described; if you oft find yourself lingering over a sentence of remarkable clarity and precision, wondering at the delicate interplay of consonance and connotation; if you are sufficiently self-aware of the classical boundaries between writer and reader, actor and audience, and take delight in the subtle ways in which such “fourth walls” may be breached, built upon, or incorporated into the interactive weaving between text and performance; then I cannot sufficiently endorse this exquisitely crafted experiment in wordplay, percipience and multidimensional storytelling.
For the record, I am not normally drawn to books featuring teenage girls, sexual awakening, or the halting and fumbling GLBT experimentation which serve as the plot drivers in this post-modern John Hughes saga of teen-teacher angst. Prosaic plot precedents aside, this thin, intricately woven volume has as much in common with Harlequin romance as Brittany Spears with Die Walküre.
Without wishing to spoil any of the many playful surprises which make The Rehearsal such a pleasure to unfold, one may liken the experience to an exercise with Plato’s Cave: as pages turn, one is gradually led to wonder which elements are representative of the watchers, the shadows, the wall on which the shadows are cast, the fire, the Things themselves, or those watching the watchers. You could consider The Rehearsal a recursive ladder proof using mise en abyme and existential exit conditions – you could, if you were a literary geek with a taste for the avant-garde, but then I don’t know who else would still be reading this far ☺
Scathingly witty social satire, nonlinear self-referential exposition, and hot lesbian sex – do you really need more? Five stars from this jaundiced reader....more
I'm a big fan of opening lines. One could argue it's merely a quasi-literary twist on the otherwise brainless act of judging a book by its cover; howeI'm a big fan of opening lines. One could argue it's merely a quasi-literary twist on the otherwise brainless act of judging a book by its cover; however, at least it's the author speaking to you directly (versus questionably ordained cover art defaced with marketably savvy yet stylishly derivative pull-quotes), using the time-proven yet infinitely repermutable construct of the grammatically bound, scope-constrained English sentence. And this one's a doozy:
"Before she became The Girl From Nowhere -- The One Who Walked In, The First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years -- she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy."
To me that just screams "epic horror," mystically charged calamity wrecked wide on a global scale. At nearly 800 pages of jumbo paperback sheafs filled with closely-spaced type, the word count is nigh on Freakin Huge, yet it is an oddly readable monstrosity -- I cracked the cover on a 20.30 homebound train, and wearily forced myself to set it aside after 200 pages and three chimes of the clock tower. Little could I have known that the true story had yet to begin.
Though I've not read these in decades, dimly-remembered dreams of Stephen King's "The Stand" and Robert McCammon's "Swan Song" stood out as resonant sign-posts to the past, that this long, dark, apocalyptic road had been trodden before...yet rarely with such heft and scope. Parts felt like J.D. Salinger ghostwriting Flannery O'Connor in an undead reimaging of George Stewart's "Earth Abides." Modern readers may prefer comparisons to Lincoln & Child's "The Relic," or Frank Schätzing's "The Swarm" (yet able to maintain a pace and excitement throughout). Imagine, for a moment, what should result were Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle ("Lucifer's Hammer") to take Steve Nile's toothsome "30 Days of Night" to its logical, endless end? Or if James Michener ("The Source") picked up Richard Matheson's "I am Legend" to plumb just how deeply the wells of myth may run?
These are all good yarns, and a new entrant in this stable of time-honored cash cows needs brook no embarrassment...but what newness has Cronin to offer? And what, in these Twilit years of literary dusk, does the world exactly need from yet another vampire trilogy?
Well this for a start: after reading a lifetime of adventures, one develops a sense for the conventional epic arc...the gradual build up of tension, the narrative convergence as disparate characters and plotlines inexorably gather toward a dramatic final conflagration...the cinematic set-piece battle, when the raptors break free, the tragically brilliant scientist groans "my God what have I done," leading protagonists and antagonists alike stand forth to meet their fate in a blaze of slo-mo triumph or tragedy, and a thousand years of darkness hinge on victory or defeat as all of history holds its collective suspended breath...
At this point in a book, the reader may subconsciously pinch the remaining leaves and feel a sense of quickening confidence that all will indeed be resolved in the last ten pages of denouement, possibly followed by a brief and obscure epilogue charting the strange new course history has taken. But when you reach that comfortable and well-known decisive scene, disbelievingly finger the 600 remaining pages and realize you're only a quarter of the way into the book...well then you know it's going to be a long night capped too-soon by gritty-eyed dawn!
The question then is whether, after such an ambitious and ripping beginning (a start which many authors would have been fain pleased to call finish), Cronin can maintain the energy and anticipation for the equivalent of two more novels packed into this one oversized volume. The answer is...mostly yes.
About a third of the way in, the author takes a startlingly high-risk structural gambit, something I don't recall seeing often attempted before, either in text or film; frankly because it's a terrible gamble with high likelihood of angering (or worse, disassociating) your audience. I read the following hundred pages or so with high cynicism, waiting for the book to collapse under its own prodigious weight.
That it didn't -- that I found myself slowly and somewhat unwillingly drawn back into the action, that the adventure did in fact pick up again, resume its damnable facility for pulling me through each page as fast as I could scan it, utterly unable to stop turning leaf after leaf in heedless defiance of the tolling clock bells -- is a testament to the author's endurance, to ensnare a reader not just once when they could be forgiven through ignorance, but a second time when they should have learned to fear his pen's power.
Stars? Who needs 'em? This book will earn a guaranteed "£££££", and that's all you need to know....more
Ah, this one started out so beautifully, so dark and grimly haunting. I wondered whether the author would be able to maintain the mood through such aAh, this one started out so beautifully, so dark and grimly haunting. I wondered whether the author would be able to maintain the mood through such a lengthy work, and alas there was a distinct lessening in potency after the first couple hundred pages. At that point he began focusing more on plot and character development, regrettably not his strongest suits.
In this, I felt the overall "shape" of the novel, in terms of quality-curve and thematic structure, paralleled somewhat China Mieville's Perdido Street Station (which likewise moved from powerful imagery to somewhat less cohesive action around the 1/3 mark) or Frank Schätzing's The Swarm (switching from the tensely unfolding catastrophes of the first half to the dialog-driven second act). Note that all of these are great books, and it is never surprising (if inevitably a bit disappointing) when a strong opening gives way to a middling conclusion. I was also reminded repeatedly of Sanderson's The Final Empire, which likewise alternated situational horror with occasionally off-putting teammate banter. (Finally, an inevitable surface comparison to Saberhagen's First Book of Swords, both in the portrayal of squabbling divine factions, and of course Chance né Coinspinner.)
Ultimately, I didn't think all the horrifically twisted threads so artfully hatched in the early chapters received their full due in the confused finale, which couldn't settle on a villain or give any particular clash more than a few rushed paragraphs. It is hard to believe this flat denouement came from the same author of earlier battles (Itko Kan, Gerrom, Pale), which each involved genuinely-disturbing scenes of mass slaughter; by the end of the book, it seemed Erikson had become so fond of his characters, even faceless bystanders, that he was unwilling to let anyone take a scratch, even against ancient horrors we'd been told could "destroy this continent."
Fortunately, readers further along the series have indicated that later books get better; and this was in fact a pretty good book, just regrettably not as powerful as the opening chapters seemed to promise.
Having criticized the bits which bugged me, let me lavish some praise on the book's many strengths. The system of Warrens is awesome, and a nice expansion of Jordan's Ways. The depth and complexity of the world Erikson has created is breathtaking (I hate the term "world-building", the way it reduces a rare and amazing talent for creation into a mere writers' pastiche). I liked the unpredictably weaving plotlines, and the amorphous morality of characters plainly unsure of the rightness of their cause.
All told, I'm glad to have come across it (from an endorsement on Reddit's /r/books), and look forward to catching up on other books in the series....more