Rooms is a very clever book.
It has taken me quite a long time to write this review, largely because I really wasn’t too sure when I finished this story what I thought of it. I knew I liked it, but did I really love it? Rooms is a ghost story, but not like any ghost story you have read before. It didn’t give me the chills or keep me awake at night. In fact, as I write this, I think that the weirdest part of this book for me, is that I found it an oddly comforting idea. You see, in the world that Lauren Oliver creates, ghosts aren’t these deeply scary ethereal beings that torment and scare us, but rather they inhabit the very fibre of our homes. They move through the walls, the windows, the lights, the very fabric of the house, watching, knowing, but not really caring, at least not in the sense that we are used to envisaging.
Oliver’s book is really several stories inhabiting the same space. In the ‘human world’ we have the family of Richard Walker returning to his house after his death. The family is pretty dysfunctional and has not come together due to love of Richard, but rather due to a morbid curiosity concerning his will. His ex-wife Caroline is worried about her own future, Walker’s daughter Minna is both a mother and seemingly something of a nymphomaniac and his son Trenton is a teenager recovering from a car crash, whilst harboring his own suicidal thoughts. If that doesn’t sound meaty enough for you, Trenton provides a link between the mortal aspect of the story and the ghostly. He can sense and at times hear the ghosts that reside in his father’s home, particularly the young, new voice.
Sandra and Alice are our ghostly narrators moving the story of the living along incrementally, whilst also revealing bit by bit how they came to be trapped in the walls of this house. Being neither related to one another, nor particularly liking each other, they have a deep seated understanding of what makes the other tick and what aspects of human behavior will trigger the worst in each other. As I have hinted at already, they are joined by a younger, newer voice which leaves the reader trying to figure out where in the relationship puzzle this new character fits.
Does that sound complicated enough for you? A novel functioning on two planes, which I suppose is at heart what all ghost stories do, but the weird thing about this tale is that you care for human and ghost elements in equal measure and not in the soppy Casper sort of a way, but in the ‘how can life go so wrong?’ way. Again, our human characters all have some fatal flaw that makes it hard to side with any of them, whilst our ghosts gain little more of our sympathy. As fashionable as this type of writing is right now, I really do enjoy a main protagonist who you care about in some way and Rooms did not provide it.
I’m not sure that Rooms leaves me desperate to go out and buy more novels by Lauren Oliver, but I certainly enjoyed the time that I spent in this thought-provoking book’s company.