Special $20.66 (Regular price: $25.99)
Publisher: Ecco Press
Reviewer: Melissa on September 24, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
When wealthy Richard Walker dies and leaves behind a country house with rooms packed with the detritus of his lifetime, his estranged family – ex-wife Caroline, troubled teen son Trenton, angry and unforgiving daughter Minna, and young granddaughter Amy – arrives for their inheritance. But despite appearances to the contrary, the Walkers aren’t alone. Prim Alice and cynical Sandra, former residents who’ve become bound to the house in death, linger within its claustrophobic walls. They observe the family, trade barbs, reminisce about their past lives while jostling for space, memory, and supremacy. They can’t make their voices heard, but both Sandra and Alice speak through the house itself – in a creak in the stairs, the dimming…or explosion…of a light bulb, the hiss of the radiator. In Lauren Oliver’s adult debut, Rooms, both the living and the dead are haunted by painful truths that will surface in explosive ways. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton learns that he’s able to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide – and things will never be the same again.
When it comes to Oliver, a few of the things that I’ve always loved are her writing style and ability to develop engaging and complex characters. Since reading her adult debut, Rooms, my thoughts about her strengths in both of these aspects have become even more enthusiastic…if that’s possible. From the very first page, she invokes a sense of tension and mystery that continues to build throughout the novel, punctuated by clues and reveals about the secrets that each of the living and deceased characters in the novel carry with them. In addition, she demonstrates a refined understanding of literary tropes and both how and when to incorporate them to great effect, including using alliteration in such a way that the reader can’t help but want to read specific passages of the novel aloud, the repetition of key symbols – both literally and figuratively – and the metafictional aspects that go hand in hand with creating an original story, The Raven Heliotrope, and will compel readers to enter a Google or Goodreads search to see if it actually exists. While Oliver may have only published middle grade and YA novels up till now, she clearly has a future in crafting literary adult fiction as well.
Atmosphere and beautiful turns of phrase are important, but they can only go so far without strong characters and a gripping story. Where Oliver is concerned though, you need not worry that these elements will be missing. On the one hand, she demonstrates an understanding of the ghost story and Gothic fiction, which was not as necessary in Before I Fall (the only other ghost story of Oliver’s that I’ve read thus far), but at the same time, she gives it an uncanny feel by altering some of the most recognizable conventions. For example, the ghosts, Alice and Sandra, are neither interested in terrifying their living counterparts the ability for them to interact with and possibly, terrify their living counterparts nor are they interested in resolving something before leaving the earthly plane to whatever afterlife awaits. These changes made me feel like I was entering a ghostly world unlike any I’d read before, until I came to recognize the way Oliver draws connections between the characters and the house itself, which is integral in Gothic literature in general and most stories with haunted house. For someone like myself who has gravitated toward pure Gothic fiction and those, like the Brontë’s novels, which are punctuated by “Gothic closets,” I loved feeling like I was seeing the ghost story genre for the first time.
While the Walker home and its artefacts reflect the memories and feelings that Minna, Trenton, Caroline, and Amy Walker have of them, Rooms connects the feelings of its ghostly inhabitants with that of the living as well. Alice and Sandra exhibit a variety of emotions, but the living inhabitants don’t always understand them: the groan of the water pipes as the faucet is turned on or creaky stairs don’t scream, “this house is haunted.” However, occasionally, one of the ghost’s feelings can create either a visible and audible disturbance or evoke an overwhelming feeling of sadness in Trenton, seemingly out of nowhere. In addition to the effects and affects that Alice and Sandra create in the Walker’s world, Oliver gives both of them and the living characters the opportunity to tell their stories in their own words: the past, the present, and most importantly, the ways in which their pasts haunt them to this day. Yes, that’s right – the ghosts don’t haunt the living, but both of the groups that are represented in Rooms are each, individually, haunted by at least one moment or incident in their lives. Whether it’s an action that they wish they could take back, a past state of being that will affect their present happiness, the loss of their innocence, or the loss of someone dear to them, the secrets that haunt the characters in Rooms demonstrate their complexity and humanity and will compel new readers and long-time fans to identify with them and the things that they’re going through or reliving. From the very beginning, Oliver weaves the beautiful language that she’s known for in a way that builds up the secrets haunting each character and hidden throughout house until they are finally revealed, sometimes in ways that will elicit audible gasps from her readers because they are so unexpected.
For readers who are looking for rich, gorgeous writing and an uncanny take on a ghost story, pick up Rooms. In fact, the only reason I didn’t give a perfect score is that the ghosts’ voices occasionally blended together when they detailed their pasts without Sandra’s characteristic snarky point of view. If my reading experience is anything like what yours will be, it will stay with you long after you finish the final page. And trust me – in this case, that’s a good thing.
Buy Rooms today and benefit from 20% off the regular price!