Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune
Published by Tor Books
Publication date: September 21, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
I wasn’t planning on it, but this is going to be a week of reviewing fantastical fiction. On Monday I discussed Cloud Cuckoo Land and today I’m back with Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune. It’s the story of Wallace Price, an astute and successful lawyer, who also happens to be a fairly terrible person (insert lawyer joke here). He dies of a sudden heart attack and finds himself in an unexpected afterlife. While this story line won’t be for everyone for me it was an unexpected, welcome respite from fiction that kept missing the mark.
Wallace is at work and then at his own funeral. Very sparsely attended, I might add, and most are there out of obligation. No one can see him so he realizes he’s a ghost, but he’s still not sure he’s dead. Until a young woman approaches him. Her name is Mei, she’s a Reaper and she’s there to help. In the blink of an eye he finds himself standing outside what looks like a hodgepodge house—each story unevenly stacked on top of the other. The bottom floor is a tea shop run by a man named Hugo. He’s the ferryman and he and Mei will help Wallace transition to the other side. For a frightened man who’s not sure he even wants to be dead and definitely has no belief in life after death, this feels like a very bad joke.
The tea shop is also home to Hugo’s grandfather, Nelson, and his dog, Apollo. Both are ghosts who quickly shut down Wallace’s attempts to ignore the truth—Nelson with tough love and Apollo by being a dog. This tight knit group is the heart of Whispering Door. The novel’s natural progression is towards Wallace’s moving through to the other side, but the story is less about that and more Klune’s larger vision of what happens after we die. Much like life it can go many ways. For some people the transition is quick and accepted, but for others, often those who have died before their time or died violently, it’s a much different matter.
Klune also advances into the varieties of grief, the multitude of emotions surrounding death. There is something recognizable in all the characters. For as outwardly sharp and acidic as Wallace is some of what he says is what many of us might think. He’s often dreadful in his self-absorption, but real in his insecurities and funny. Like the various teas Hugo serves, humor infuses the book.
There’s some question as to whether the novel is adult fiction or YA. For me, it leans YA in that while its message of hope applies to all ages, it wraps up in a way that feels better suited to younger readers. I was in a mood for uncomplicated so appreciated the sweet charm of Under the Whispering Door.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Tor Books in exchange for an honest review.*