I had a Meryl Streep in The deerhunter moment when reading Eleanor Catton‘s first novel The rehearsal so I was really looking foward t hearing her speak about it, and to hearing from the other emerging stars of New Zealand fiction (no pressure).
Icelandic scholar Bill Manhire (thanks to Janet Frame I now know that about Mr. Manhire) was a strict taskmaster. It was all very organised – writers alphabetical by first name, eight minutes to read and then to answer questions about their work, given time to think about a book they had been consumed by to be named at the end.
Anna Taylor was described in the programme as a ‘consummate performer’, a description she confessed left her a bit unsure of what to do but she read well from her collection Relief. The collection explores people who find themselves in life situations where they are lost. Frank O’Connor said in The lonely voice that short stories deal with alienation and disappointment and this story did share those characteristics but it certainly made me want to read more.
Like the short story writers yesterday these young women were all concerned with getting the voice right, although Catton confesed that the more time she spends thinking about the voice the less she knows about it. Only Taylor’s preferences for form echoed yesterday’s panel. She loves to write short stories because she loves to read them, while van der Zijpp always wanted to do a novel. Catton hardly ever reads short stories, she “adores novels” becsuse the reader can form a relationship with the novel in which they can forgive the novel its faults. She doesn’t do this with short stories.
Bridget van der Zijpp‘s first novel Misconduct won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (South East Asia and Pacific region). It’s about a woman driven to do an impulsive deed and the subject matter saw reviewers bandying the term chick lit about before running away from it, as in “with this subject matter this could be chick lit but it’s not”. Reviewers weren’t the only ones bemused by the subject of revenge; when van der Zijpp told people at parties women wanted to share their stories of revenge while men asked if it was autobiographical.
The rehearsal will be published by Granta in the U.K. and will also be published in the U.S. Catton confessed to feeling like what had happened after New Zealand had happened to the book, not to her. She is determinedly not thinking about the marketing campaign.
The observation in The rehearsal is so acute I asked Catton earlier in the festival if she had spent her entire high school years observing the way teenagers speak and behave. The answer was no but she did confess in this session that her mum sometimes pleads with her “please don’t write that down”.
Bill Manhire continued the pleasing festival tradition of asking the writers to name a book everybody in the room should read.
Eleanor Catton – The watchmen – Alan Moore
Bridget van der Zijpp – The Believers – Zoe Helle
Anna Taylor – William Trevor, Alice Munro, T.C. Boyle (Emily Perkins is also a fan of Boyle’s)
Manhire’s pick was Robert Bolano – 26 66.