Lauren Oliver’s Rooms was another book I picked up out of thriftiness; I am powerless before the charms of Barnes and Noble’s remainders table. That said, whereas my last review was for a dollar book, this was a whopping five, and even I need a hook to part me from a five spot. It looked literary but spooky, ghosts haunting a house, and I was in the mood for something Joe Hill-ish, but really it was the dust jacket blurb from Lev Grossman that sold me. I loved The Magicians so intensely that pretty much my whole social circle got a copy for Christmas; he’s on the Donald Glover/Brian K Vaughan/Neil Gaiman “I’ll buy a dirty sock if you’re the one selling it” list.
This does not mean Lev Grossman wrote the book, as I’m sure everyone with half a brain is aware. I am not in possession of said half-brain.
Rooms was by no means a bad book, it merely suffered from the expectations I placed upon it. It follows the ex-wife, adult daughter, and teenage son of a recently deceased patriarch, as well as two ghosts of previous residents of the family home. I wanted mystery and magic, I got Tom Perrotta where two characters happened to be dead.
This is not Lauren Oliver’s fault; she is allowed to write a family drama lightly embroidered with… well, even more family drama from people who happened to be dead, more than ghosts per se … but given the marketing (and not just the endorsement from Grossman) it was surprising how little of this book dabbled in the supernatural. There’s an occasional ouija board here and a smattering of voices there, but the main focus is on our dysfunctional family. Again, not a bad story, just not the one I was expecting.
Divorced from my expectations, there were elements of the story which stood up; one ghost wrote a children’s book referenced throughout the narrative which favorably recalls The Blind Assassin and which adds the darkness and magic I felt the book was lacking, and setting up the ghosts as omniscient yet questionably reliable narrators worked nicely. However, for such a brisk read, there were too many characters, and a red-herring subplot about a missing girl who may or may not be dead felt unnecessary.
Verdict: worth five dollars if not necessarily Lev Grossman’s effusive praise.