By Lauren Oliver
Compulsive and powerful ghost story narrated by two spirits who inhabit the walls of an old house. It’s 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.Tweet
Richard Walker, a wealthy eccentric, dies and his estranged family congregate to sort out both the house and the funeral arrangements. Caroline, his ex-wife is an alcoholic and their two children, Minna and Trenton, have fairly severe problems of their own. The story has multiple narrators, each of the main characters having their say. Additional characters who also contribute are ghosts who have inhabited the house for a very long time, and have watched and listened as many of the family traumas have unfolded over the years.
Not really my kind of book at all - ghosts talking to ghosts, people who are alive communicating with ghosts, ghosts everywhere in fact. And all, I feel, unnecessary as the book would have worked perfectly well if the ghosts had been removed and the story had been told from the point of view of the remaining characters, all of whom were alive and kicking - it is not clear to me what was added to the book by the ghosts being given their chance to tell the story. It is true that they had an understanding of Richard Walker that was unique, as the rest of his family had been off the scene for a number of years, but I do not feel that this was capitalised on, or even used. It did feel much more as though they were just adding padding to a book which may otherwise have been quite sparse – each came with their own backstories which, whilst not relevant to the plot, did serve the purpose of adding an extra bit of interest and, to some extent, suspense as their stories were revealed gradually, the whole picture only becoming clear after numerous visitations. Another area which, for me, didn’t really work was the attempt to make the house a character in the novel. To be honest, I was over halfway through the book before I even realized that each room was being used in rotation as a setting for the next part of the story. The author systematically works her way through them all but, again, I think it is unnecessary and not very effective. The final criticism which I have (and there are some good points to come) is that the characters are neither believable nor likeable. To be honest, I didn’t really care what happened to most of them and this includes the ghosts - in fact it applies particularly to the ghosts!!
Having said all of that, the book does have some redeeming features. Despite the fact that the story is all a bit far-fetched and extreme, stretching plausibility to the limits, the situations which arise are certainly attention-grabbing. There is suspense created by many of the “out of the ordinary” incidents and I did want to know how they would turn out (it has to be said that I am the worst person at being able to anticipate where an author is heading so what I saw as suspense may have come across to more discerning and intelligent readers as predictability). I thought the crowning glory of the book was the scene at the memorial service. It was worthy of Alan Ayckbourn at his best - a farce extraordinaire revealing a side to the author which makes her a force to be reckoned with if she can capture, bottle and repeat this level of entertainment.
For me, this novel should have been about a dysfunctional family coming to terms with themselves and with their relationships as a result of a communal grief and I think it deserved more in-depth scrutiny than was brought to the table. I suspect that this is not the author’s forte (never having read any of her previous books I am in no position to judge) and so she has turned the novel into something else – a ghost story intertwined with numerous other unrelated, but nonetheless quite interesting, stories. The introduction of Katie, Vivian and Eva were prime examples of this. They needed to be there only because there wouldn’t have been much of a story without them. Overall there just wasn’t any great substance to any part of the novel.
Despite my misgivings regarding the supernatural component of the book and the lack of in-depth content, I did find it strangely endearing. On that basis I am reluctant to dismiss it altogether and am giving it an average rating
Would I read another Lauren Oliver? If the supernatural elements were removed then I might well do but, on the evidence so far, I wouldn’t actively seek out her books as future reading material.
Our group agreed that this book was easy to read, although not very memorable. The characters were quite complex but not likeable. There were many things unexplained. The ghosts were not at all frightening and were written in a very ‘matter of fact way.’
The book was not plot driven but relied on the characters, which were well described. There were light-hearted parts to the book.
During the book Trenton changed and matured, Mina changed a little, but the other characters stayed very much the same.
The ‘plot’ was unpredictable, with time going back and forward quite easily. The author tried to make the house a character in the story, but did not really pull this off.
All the characters, including the ghosts were looking for closure of some type and the ending (i.e. the fire) was predictable.
Trenton knew about the ghosts from quite early on in the book this could be because he was going through puberty, or possible because he was slightly brain damaged as a result of the accident he had earlier in his life. This would have made him receptive of the supernatural.
We understand that the author had previously written for teenagers and this came through in this book. If we could ask the author a question, we would like to know if this book was based on her own experience in any way.
A likeable, easy to read book, our group gave it an average mark of slightly above 6.
I quite enjoyed this book although I thought the story would be better without the ghosts playing a part.
It over complicated the book which to my mind would have been better just written from each of the characters' point of view - namely, the ex-wife Caroline, son Trenton, daughter Minna and granddaughter Amy.
All in all, not a very happy family but a relatively happy ending.
I enjoyed this book as it kept you guessing what had happened and what each character's outcome would be. Well written and a definite page turner!
My reading group were lucky enough to receive copies of this to review from the team at Reading Groups for Everyone.
I found this to be a slow burner with the second half much better than the first. I found the characters eminently unlikeable. (Somehow their indolence and arrogance reminded me of the dislike I felt for characters in the Great Gatsby. I was then pleased to find out the author was influenced by said book.) I was disappointed that I didn't find it scary at all, the ghosts were merely other 'dramatis personae'. It would seem I'm in the minority though because the rest of my group liked it better than I. They rather liked the gentleness of it and the way the ghosts were part of the furniture, part of the fabric of the house and still had their own secrets and regrets to deal with along with the living. 'Melancholy and loneliness has never been so palpable' said on of our group. Another said although there were no real cliffhangers it had a suspense all its own and she found it hard to put down. So, overall we give this seven or even, eight out of ten and most of us would recommend it to other friends and reading groups.
We read Rooms for our reading group and we thought it was an easy read but that the ending was a bit predictable and that the characters weren't particularly likeable.
We really enjoyed the fact that it was narrated by the ghosts and we felt that the book could be turned into a good film. We thought that it was a clever device to have the book split into sections which covered the different rooms of the house.