Published: September 23, 2014.
Published by: Ecco.
Source: Received an ARC from the publisher for the blog tour. Thanks, HarperCollins and Tara!
The New York Times bestselling author of Before I Fall and the Delirium trilogy makes her brilliant adult debut with this mesmerizing story in the tradition of The Lovely Bones, Her Fearful Symmetry, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane—a tale of family, ghosts, secrets, and mystery, in which the lives of the living and the dead intersect in shocking, surprising, and moving ways.
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.
Elegantly constructed and brilliantly paced, Rooms is an enticing and imaginative ghost story and a searing family drama that is as haunting as it is resonant.
Rooms, Oliver's first adult novel, is quite an interesting departure from her young adult work and shows that as she writes her range is developing excellently. This is not a traditional scary ghost story by any means. It is more of a slow, contemplative family drama in which the ghosts are practically part of the family. Their opinions and their pasts intertwine in the narrative with what each member of the late Richard Walker's family experiences as they deal with his death by going through his -- and their -- old home one room at a time.
Rooms is told from multiple points of view -- some human, some ghost, and often with the humans feeling more... detached, almost, than the ghosts. This is likely due to the decision to have the ghosts narrate in first person and the chapters narrated from the points of view of Walker's family written in third. It provides an interesting contrast as the ghosts, Alice and Sandra, come to feel even more alive and present than Walker's family does, even as they recount their distant pasts. This was an interesting creative decision on Oliver's part and I found their voices the strongest because of it.
However, while the ghosts struggle with being unable to move on from the house (and the tough memories that requires them to dig up), it is the human characters that have the toughest and most present struggles as the book progresses. Richard Walker's ex-wife, Caroline, and their children, Minna and Trenton, each deal with a deep-rooted personal issue as they attempt to clean out the house. Caroline is an undeniable alcoholic who can't face the day without a few drinks under her belt. Minna searches for sex from practically every man who walks through the door, despite having her toddler, Amy, with her at the house. Trenton can't seem to stop thinking that he'd be better off and more loved -- or at least more noticed -- in death than in life. Unravelling each of these issues and learning the reasons behind them is a slow and not always clear process but one that is intriguing nonetheless.
Literary leaning adult novels tend to have a sort of abstract purpose, at least from my experience with them. There's not a clear direction or end goal like there is in a lot of genre fiction or YA -- it's very much about the living of life in a general sense as opposed to the journey towards something specific. In Rooms, though the story is, in a way, a journey towards a specific end event, Oliver has still nailed this vague sense of abstract purpose for that journey and made it appealing to read. It feels like this story is just about all the various voices, both human and ghost, that reside in this house, but diving into their stories is where the heart of the book resides. Oliver even works threads from each character into one large, interconnected work by the finale and reveals that the true purpose for the house and its inhabitants in the end was shared with the reader all along.
Rooms is certainly an ambitious novel but one which I believe lives up to its promise. While it was slow reading, it was deliberately so to allow for all of the unfolding to have an impact on the reader and for the threads to connect subtly enough that they're not truly noticed until the whole picture is laid out -- not spelled out, not made too obvious, just presented as the natural conclusion. An intelligent and, as the synopsis claims, rather haunting piece, Rooms proves that Oliver should be a writer to watch for in adult fiction, too.
About Lauren Oliver:
Lauren Oliver is the author of the New York Times bestselling YA novels Before I Fall, Panic, and the Delirium trilogy: Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem. Her books have been translated into thirty languages. She is also the author of two novels for middle-grade readers, The Spindlers and Liesl & Po, which was a 2012 E. B. White Read-Aloud Award nominee. Lauren's first adult novel, Rooms, will be published in September 2014. A graduate of the University of Chicago and NYU's MFA program, Lauren Oliver is also the co-founder of the boutique literary development company Paper Lantern Lit. You can visit her online at www.laurenoliverbooks.com