(Not to be confused with Room, which is also good.)
The other day I hopped on a bus and went to meet a friend for dinner. Unfortunately she texted at the last minute to say she couldn’t make it, but being a true introvert this didn’t particularly bother me.
This meant that I had both (a) spare time and (b) spare money, which I’d budgeted for dinner. What did I do? Naturally, I took myself along to Waterstones.
I spent an hour and a half browsing the shelves, telling myself I was only allowed two books (the price of books these days almost equals the price of dinner, but books > food, so it’s fine). I went through several, starting with Eco’s The Prague Cemetery and Joanne Harris’ The Lollipop Shoes, both of which I inexplicably still haven’t read.
I realised whilst wandering though that Eco and Harris are both authors whose books seem to drop into my life of their own accord from time to time, and therefore maybe I should buy something I wouldn’t normally read. Something from an author I hadn’t heard of, for example, I thought as I absent-mindedly turned all the copies of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect to face forwards so that people would buy them (do it. They’re great.).
My eyes flicked over the shelves and alighted on Rooms. It had an intriguing cover, nice and dark, so I wandered over and read the blurb.
A compulsive and dazzling novel narrated by two ghosts that inhabit the walls of an old house. This isn’t your traditional ghost story, though. It’s about the living as much as the dead – and the secrets that haunt them both.
Hmm. Interesting. But it didn’t really give much away. It sounded good, though, or at least unusual; I often think that the ‘story told by someone who’s dead’ trope is a bit overdone, but this one seemed like it might be a bit different. And it was.
Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the belongings 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.
I like any book that opens with a poem. This one opens with two: a good start.
There were lots of things I liked about it and I’m not quite sure where to begin. I suppose one of the main things was that it didn’t try to be more than it was. It could have gone down the flouncy-writing route (not necessarily a bad thing) and been all descriptive and haunting, but it didn’t. It remained as down-to-earth as a ghost story can be: telling the reader about the family who’d come to collect their inheritance, running through a fairly generic family-in-a-novel plot. Ex-wife who’s angry that ex-husband slept with other women, career-minded nymphomaniac daughter whose sexual escapades ruin her professional life, troubled teenage son who has no friends and wants to end it all. And of course, there’s Amy, the granddaughter, who watches everything that’s going on and applies to it her childish logic.
Then there were the ghosts. Again, these were nicely written because they were more like people than spirits; getting angry with each other, trying to keep secrets but also wanting to let them into the open. What I particularly liked, though, was the description of how being a ghost worked. They weren’t corporeal in any sense of the word, and some of the passages about how they drifted through the house, in some ways becoming it briefly before scattering again, were really well done. It’s how I’d imagine ghosts would actually be, if they existed.
On the whole, it’s a good solid novel that’s somehow more than the sum of its parts. I think because it’s sensitively written without being cloying, and Lauren Oliver spends just enough time on descriptions to make them interesting, but not so much time that you end up skipping pages of text (*ahem* Victor Hugo *ahem*).
Definitely recommended; dinner budget money well spent!