Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.
But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.
The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.
I thought it would be interesting to see how Oliver would handle a ghost story for an adult audience. So during the holidays with the whole family sick, I curled up on the couch and dived in. It turned out to be a dark and rather depressing ghost story.
Despite the darkness, generations of family dysfunction and the resulting tragedy, there is something compelling that pulls the story forward. Like watching a car wreck in slow motion, you can’t seem to look away as the tragic lives pile up and connect.
Oliver captures the unique voices of these disparate tragedies and packs the events leading to their convergence in/at the house.
That the book succeeds is due in large part to Oliver’s characters. Though some are flat in internal monologue, most come to life when interacting with each other, as Oliver’s ear for dialogue is finely tuned. She’s able to take the tropes of the traditional ghost story and give them new energy by creating ghosts who are realistic but still terrifyingly paranormal.
I try to stay away from books that feature the sort of ugliness Rooms contains but I have to admit there is something essentially human about the ugliness and sadness at the heart of the story. A desperate need to be loved, to find peace, to be comfortable in your skin and as part of a family.
Joy Tipping, Dallas Morning News:
The book’s narration by many characters, both spectral and non, keeps the reader on her toes. But the astute reader will, by the end, have discerned the truths that the characters try so urgently to keep hidden. The rooms of the title echo human emotions, how a kitchen can feel either warm and cozy or cold, dirty and barren; how a bedroom can house the most intimate acts of love and also the deepest sorrow and loneliness.
The last 50 pages of Rooms are as devastatingly emotional as any book I’ve recently encountered. It’ll take me awhile to get past repeating those sequences in my head. For a thriller, that’s as strong a recommendation as I can make.
Although author Lauren Oliver has had success as a YA novelist, it can be tricky making the transition to an older audience. But Rooms is written with grace and confidence, and packs the emotional wallop of someone unafraid of tackling difficult and delicate issues. Rooms doesn’t scare so much as haunt, and for a tale narrated in part by ghosts, it is remarkably full of life. Utterly captivating and electric, this richly atmospheric ghost story is excellent reading.
A few other perspectives: