Published by Ecco
Publication date: September 23rd 2014
People, Caroline thought, were like houses. They could open their doors. You could walk through their rooms and touch the objects hidden in their corners. But something—the structure, the wiring, the invisible mechanism that kept the whole thing standing—remained invisible, suggested only by the fact of its existing at all.
Richard Walker has died and the country house where he lived now fills up with his ex-wife Caroline and his two children, Minna and Trenton. What they do not know is that throughout their lives and before, the house has also been occupied by two ghosts, Sandra and Alice. They all converge in Lauren Oliver’s Rooms. Unlike the ghosts, Richard’s family manifests itself quickly. Caroline is an alcoholic who starts drinking in the morning but doesn’t truly fall apart until nightfall. Minna is a beautiful but angry young woman with a six-year-old daughter and enough phobias to fill one of the rooms in the house. Trenton was the surprise baby, and is now an awkward teenager who thinks about suicide. All of them were estranged from Richard and now find themselves gathered in a house filled with memories that go far beyond their own.
Sandra and Alice have an equally strong presence in Rooms in that they are interwoven into the structure of the house itself. It is not just their past that keeps them in this world; it is the house as well and they can feel it—whether it is being crowded or even pain when a wall is kicked or a door slammed. Oliver also uses this premise of space in their relationship. They were foisted onto each other by having died in the same house so there is no bond and they bicker and complain as any two strangers would who were captive in one place for decades. The brash and volatile Sandra claims to want honesty but for the quiet and proper Alice
These are my secrets: roads branching, endlessly branching, each leading to a hundred others. When Sandra first came, I was tempted to share, to explain. But now I know: certain stories must remain mine, so that there is a me to remain.
The wisdom of time only allows Sandra and Alice to understand the Walkers as they muddle through the aftereffects of Richard’s death but does not make their own secrets any less onerous.
Oliver separates Rooms into the spaces of a house, with large rooms that hold happiness and those so small that hurt bounces off the walls with nowhere to go. As we pass through them we learn more about the people who lived there and that in some way each is holding onto something they need to release in order to move forward. Oliver handles all of this complexity with a grace that gives the novel a feeling of lightness even at its darkest moments and makes it so much more than a ghost story.
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