Lauren Oliver: Rooms (2014)


This is a carryover review from last year. I finished the book before Christmas and wasn’t even going to review it at first – like so many others – but since it’s new, I thought it would be good to write about it anyway.

Rooms is Lauren Oliver’s first book for adults. She’s famous for her YA novels, Panic, Before I Fall and the Delirium trilogy. I haven’t read them, so I came to this novel without any preconceptions. I only knew it was said to be a rather unusual ghost story or – to be more precise – a haunted house story. I do love ghost stories and haunted house stories and the mini-review I read was so appealing that I had to try it.

Richard Walker died, leaving behind a huge country house. At the beginning of the novel his estranged family, – his ex-wife Caroline, his daughter Minna, her young child Amy, and his son Trenton – arrives to take possession of the house and his things.

The house is occupied by two bickering ghosts, Alice and Sandra. Unlike other ghosts who haunt houses these two are woven into the fabric of the house. They have become the house. They are in the walls, in the plumbing, everywhere. That’s an unusual idea and could have been really spooky, but it wasn’t because Rooms focuses too much on the story of each character. With the exception of little Amy, they are all troubled. The ex-wife is an alcoholic, Minna is a sex addict, Trenton is a suicidal teenager, Sandra, one of the ghosts, was shot, and Alice has secrets of her own.

The story moves along quickly, the descriptions are evocative, and the end is, although foreseeable, not bad. The biggest problem is that there are too many characters and, especially the ghosts Alice and Sandra, are too alike. They have different names and a different story but that’s not enough to tell them apart. The voices are too similar, even though they use another vocabulary. The same goes for the family members. They are all equally dysfunctional but if they were not so distinct through age and gender, they would blend into each other as well. Some of the descriptions of alcoholism or Minna’s and Trenton’s behaviour are spot on but they seem to exist in a vacuum. They have no history other than that the father was a bastard. We don’t understand Caroline’s drinking. We have no clue why Minna’s this bad, popping pills, jumping every guy that enters the house. Trenton’s the only character we get to understand a bit better.

Although I wasn’t too keen on this book, I think some readers might like it. Lauren Oliver knows how to write a scene or a description. However, overall this felt like a highly artificial attempt at a ghost story. The worst was maybe the lack of atmosphere. We don’t always need to know why a ghost is haunting a place but we want to feel the haunting. Atmosphere is a key element. As the story of a dysfunctional family it doesn’t work either because it lacks depth; for a character to be interesting he/she needs a bit more than being dysfunctional.

Maybe she’s better at writing for YA. Since I’ve got te first in the Delirium trilogy and Before I Fall I’ll certainly find out sooner or later.

Have you read any good ghost or haunted house stories lately?


18 thoughts on “Lauren Oliver: Rooms (2014)

  1. Nice review, Caroline. Sorry to know that you didn’t like Lauren Oliver’s new book as much as you had hoped to. It is disappointing when a ghost story is not atmospheric. I remember seeing the movie version of Henry James’ ‘The Turn of the Screw’ called ‘The Innocents’. We don’t know whether ghosts really make an appearance in the story, but one thing we definitely can say about it is that it is atmospheric. I think sometimes YA writers try their hand at writing fiction for adults and sometimes it doesn’t work out. I remember when J.K.Rowling’s ‘A Casual Vacancy’ came out, many of her fans felt that way. It looks like Lauren Oliver’s style might be that way too. I hope you enjoy her YA books though. I hope to read them someday. Happy reading!

    • Thanks, Vishy for the wishes. 🙂 . I hope I’ll like the YA novels. Maybe books for adults are not her thing. Clearly, Trenton was the charcater that was the most rounded and he’s a typical YA charcater. It would have been better to tally focus on him and make the rest creepier, more atmospheric. I haven’t read A Casual Vacany but my father, who read all of the harry Potter novels didn’t like it. I think she writes well as Robert Galbraith though.

  2. I can’t seem to get my Realist head around ghost stories. I tried to watch The Woman in Black but felt terribly bored and gave up. Rooms sounds a bit one-note with ALL the dysfunctional characters in it. Maybe writers should stick to doing wh t they do best, but maybe she learnt things from writing this book and the next one will be more engaging for adult readers.

  3. At Christmas I picked up a Phillip Pullman short story called The Collectors in audiobook. It was a sort of ghost-story-mystery and although it was brief, I enjoyed it for he’s such a great writer.

  4. This does sound disappointing. No atmosphere in this type of ghost story really a deal breaker for me.

    The flat characters are of course also a problem. This is too bad as the idea of bickering ghosts sounds like a good one.

  5. I love a good ghost story (especially Sheridan Le Fanu and M R James )so am sorry you wouldn’t recommend this. I haven’t read one recently, but enjoyed the film The Babadook which uses that crucial atmosphere to great effect.

  6. I really liked John Boyne’s This House is Haunted that I read last fall. Maybe not a perfect read, but a good one. It’s really hard to pull off a very convincing, chilling ghost/haunted house story, isn’t it? The Woman in Black by Susan Hill remains my favorite.

    • It is hard, I agree. And I love the genre so much that I’m willing to give books a try that I haven’t seen reviewed much. But it didn’t work. Nothing worked for me. Not the character portraits nor the haunting.
      I loved The Woman in Black and The Small Hand (was that the title?).

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