Talented newcomer basks in glory of glowing reviews

By Alice Neville

Eleanor Catton has won praise for her debut novel,  The Rehearsal . Photo / Supplied
Eleanor Catton has won praise for her debut novel, The Rehearsal . Photo / Supplied

Kiwi author Eleanor Catton is revelling in her sudden international fame.

The 23-year-old's debut, The Rehearsal, was released in Britain this month to rave responses.

The Daily Mail called her "fiction's golden girl" and reviews from the Times and the Daily Telegraph have been glowing.

"I'm quite astonished, actually," said the 23-year-old from London. "They're just being so nice."

Released here last year, The Rehearsal is about the aftermath of a high school sex scandal. In a parallel storyline, drama students put on a play about the scandal.

The book earned Catton the accolade of becoming the youngest fiction finalist in the Montana Book Awards - with winners announced tomorrow.

"It's a book about performance," she said. "There's a bunch of layers of reality ...

I guess it's experimental."

Catton, the youngest of three children, was born in Canada to a New Zealand librarian mother and American academic father.

The family moved to Christchurch when Catton was six and she grew up reading as many books as she could.

"There was a weekly limit on our library card and it was 30 books. I remember every week we had to change the 30 and it was always this agonising decision deciding which 30."

Catton attended Burnside High and University of Canterbury before moving to Wellington to join Victoria University's Creative Writing course, where she wrote much of her debut novel.

"Everyone knew immediately it was pretty astonishing," said senior lecturer Damien Wilkins. "It's the best piece of fiction I've seen through the course. The thing about Eleanor is it's quite an unbounded talent. ... It will be amazing to see what she does next."

Catton is working on her second novel, which will be "a little bit sci-fi" and set in New Zealand during the 19th century gold rush.

She admits the stunning response to her first novel has increased the pressure.

"The entire time you're writing a first book, you never really believe that anyone's going to read it," she said. "But with writing a second book, you know that people are going to read it ... it's like people are watching something before it's formed."

Catton will head to the Edinburgh Festival for a panel discussion before returning to America, where she's working towards a Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Iowa.

- Herald on Sunday

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