“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.”
Thoughts: The synopsis of Rooms would lead one to believe that it is a complex and an emotional story. There is all of the pent-up emotional baggage of each of the family members, not to mention those emotions harbored by long-time ghosts. Each inhabitant also hides secrets, which readers automatically understand will be brought to light before the end of the novel. All of the harbingers are there for an emotion-packed story filled with both the alive and the dead searching for answers.
Unfortunately, Rooms is more fizzle than spark. The characters remain aloof and in many ways rather despicable. Unlikeable characters are perfectly acceptable, but in this instance, the characters are so bland that readers will feel nothing towards them or for them. It is as if one is simply proof-reading someone else’s doctoral thesis. The interest never generates, and readers remain removed from everything that occurs.
Then there are the individual stories themselves. Each character is obviously seeking closure; this should not be a surprise given the fact that there are ghosts present, and the family is preparing for their father’s/ex-husband’s memorial service. However, not everyone achieves closure. Instead, they receive clarity – an understanding that their behaviors are harmful towards themselves as well as others. Yet, no one does anything about it. The mother does not decide to enter rehab. The son still harbors dangerous thoughts. One does not end the novel thinking this is a family that is going to be okay. Instead, one worries that nothing was resolved, and that the family is as problematic as ever.
The bright spot in all of this melancholy is Sandra’s yang to Alice’s yin. The two make the ultimate odd couple in ghostly roommates, and their interactions provide some comic relief among the extremely serious introspection occurring throughout the house. However, even their stories end rather abruptly and without that sense of closure for which the novel practically screams aloud. Not only that, but readers may take issue with the fact that neither Alice nor Sandra truly understand why they are there and how they can leave. It takes the new ghost to enlighten them, which seems rather odd in the grand scheme of things.
Ultimately, for this reader, Rooms may be the victim of being the wrong book at the wrong time. Sometimes, one wants to read a book that requires a reader’s own quiet introspection to capture the true spirit of the story and understand the magic weaved throughout the pages. Rooms, this reader suspects, is exactly that type of book. It is not an escapist novel. It is not something one can read from cover to cover and expect to glean any meaningful insight from it. Then again, maybe this reader’s impressions of the book are spot-on, and it is a book that does not live up to the hype. In the end, it is a disappointing read, and that is all that really matters.