Under the Whispering Door
Updated: Oct 7, 2022
Rating - ⭐⭐⭐1/2
"When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.
Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop's owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.
But Wallace isn't ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo's help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.
When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days."
Under the Whispering Door is an upcoming standalone fantasy novel by TJ Klune, the author behind The House in the Cerulean Sea.
First and foremost, I would like to thank NetGalley and Tor Books for granting me access to review this book. Please note that this in no way affects my opinions. Also note that what I read was an ARC, so things may be subject to change for the final release.
I will be honest by saying that part of my experience reading this was impacted by my high expectations. I loved The House in the Cerulean Sea, so I was expecting great things from this new novel. While this wasn't bad by any means, in the end, I thought this was just an okay book. It was hopeful and bittersweet, but I didn't get the connection to this that I was looking for, and here is why. As a side note, I would highly recommend listening to Wait For It from Hamilton while reading this.
I have no complaints or criticisms about the writing as I found it rather easy to digest. My only complaint really is that because of the nature of the plot, I felt like the book was a bit slow-moving.
Under the Whispering Door presents a rather simple premise at its core. A man dies and is forced to rethink his life while grieving his death with the help of a ferryman, a reaper, a stubborn grandfather, and a ghost dog. In other words, this is about how to move on and ghost 101. I think, for me, it was its simplicity that lead me to have a bit of a lukewarm response to this. I wanted this to give me more feelings and a sense of wholesomeness. That could just be me projecting my feelings for The House in the Cerulean Sea though, so please take what I say with a grain of salt.
There were aspects of the plot that I did find interesting, such as the tea shop. I also liked the humorous moments as they helped lighten the plot even though some fell a bit flat for me. What I will also give the author is that he really makes you think. This book brings forth questions such as, 'if you die unexpectedly, can you say that you had a good life that you lived to its fullest?' What put me in a bit of an odd place in terms of how I feel about this book would be the ending. As I was reading, I was taking away a specific message, and the ending pretty much tore that apart. That is on me though, and I cannot guarantee that many other people will have the same opinions as me.
Another aspect of the book that I personally could have done without was the addition of Alan. Now, I am not going to go into it because of spoilers, but this plotline did nothing for me but add unnecessary drama even though it was used in order to further the plot in other ways.
Wallace, our main character, for a good chunk of the beginning of the book was, to say the least, not a nice guy. I understand that in order for someone to have some positive development and for them to realize their faults, you generally have to make them unlikable and unsympathetic. That did impact my experience as even when he started to make this realization and started being a better person, I didn't really believe him because it was such a rapid shift, and I wasn't entirely invested in his development either. I also wish that we got a better idea as to what Wallace looked like. He was described as being tall and thin and looking like death, but in my head, I just kept picturing him as a generic middle-aged man.
A large part of the book focuses on the developing relationship between Wallace and Hugo. While I wasn't mad about it or thought anything was grossly wrong with the way it was written, I found that we didn't really get much interaction between them. I found that Wallance interacted more with the other character than he did with Hugo, with whom he is supposed to create a romantic connection. Despite that though, I was still happy with the conclusion.
The best part about this book though, by far, was Nelson. Nelson is Hugo's grandfather who has yet to move on and lives to torment those around him (but in the best way possible). To use a bit of an outdated word, Nelson was an absolute hoot. He was the comedic side character that this story so dearly needed in order to offset the more grim aspects. Another character whom I found to be more interesting than our main character was The Manager. Again, can't go into too much detail here because of spoilers, but he radiated strong David Tennent vibes and it was great.
I am not fully sure what you are supposed to take out of this book. Live life like the next second will be your last? Live your life to the fullest so that when the time comes you aren't entirely full of regret? Dealing with grief and moving on? All of the above and much more? This book goes into many deep topics that some people probably don't want to read about, but it was done well enough that you didn't feel bogged down by it.
Now, I saw well enough because there were some aspects that didn't entirely work for me, and others I wished were covered more. Overall, this was an okay book primarily due to me not having a strong enough connection to it. I would recommend that you pick it up and see how you connect to it, and if you had the same feelings as me. If you are looking for something along the same lines as this, I would recommend you watch Ghost Whisperer. While it is not a book, it deals with the same subjects of loss and grief with an emphasis on the people left behind.