Earlier this year I read Eleanor Catton’s book The Rehearsal. I finished it late at night and I wrote her a letter. The next day I thought what I had written was maybe a bit over the top, but I thought maybe I would send it anyway, since I imagined her struggling with a new book, unsure of her future. I thought, surely it can’t hurt to get fan-mail. But I never did send it. And now she’s won the Booker Prize at 28 years of age, so now I never will.
But here it is:
Dear Eleanor Catton,
I read a lot, and I also write a lot, but I haven’t written anything like this before. I suppose this is a fan letter.
I just read The Rehearsal. I think the last time I remember being so impressed by a writer was when I first read Elfride Jelenek, or possibly when I read Blindness by Jose Saramago. In both cases I was torn between feeling a huge excitement at the possibilities of fiction and a kind of yawning terror at the impossibility of my ever producing something so wonderful. I reminded myself that both Jelenek and Saramago were established masters of their craft. I’m only 31 years old. Eleanor Catton, you are younger than me. Eleanor Catton, you are fucking with my head.
You probably think there are all kinds of things wrong with The Rehearsal, given that it’s a few years since you wrote it. I want to tell you, the book is note perfect. It is incredibly beautiful, well executed and true. I don’t usually even like similes, but almost every one of yours shows the reader something new, and does so with revelatory clarity. You put a poet’s grasp of imagery into a prose work, but without sacrificing narrative thrust or characterisation. How can you craft so many flawless sentences?
The vision The Rehearsal presents of social structures and the way people relate to themselves is realised with complete integrity. It is compelling to read. The interlinked stories are all equally fascinating. The structure of the overall narrative serves the themes at the same time as it triggers emotions and generates colours in such a way that one could be forgiven for missing how virtuosic its construction actually is. Your book is brilliant. Congratulations.
You probably don’t even want to hear about that book anymore. I see from your Wikipedia page that you have another novel you’re working on. I imagine you have other projects too, and it’s likely you want them to be very different from what you’ve done before. I’m sure they will be different, and I’m sure they will be excellent. If you are ever subject to doubt, please don’t be. You are what so many of us want to be in this life. You are a great writer.