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Rooms: A Novel Hardcover – September 23, 2014
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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From the Publisher
Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings and Belzhar, interviews Lauren Oliver
Meg Wolitzer (MW): Lauren, your excellent, gripping novel Rooms is your first book for adults. What convinced you to make the leap into this world––or was it a leap at all, or instead more of a short stroll?
Lauren Oliver (LO): It wasn't an intentional departure from teen or children's fiction. I was simply gripped by the idea, and knew right away that it would be a novel for adults and would have to be, given many of its themes and characters. It didn't feel like a leap. I started my career working on (bad) novels for adults. They were lengthy, pretentious, and worst of all, boring—but it was certainly a category to which I've long intended to write. Stories themselves have their own particular exigencies, their own demands. They speak toward certain audiences. In that way, the experience of writing each book is unique and the category to which it might belong feels almost incidental.
MW: Rooms is a ghost story, which is a durable form. We no longer live in the era of, say, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw; and I suspect that a ghost story in the 21st century has specific meanings, echoes, and uses. What in particular did your ghosts give you?
LO: It's funny you mention The Turn of the Screw. It's always been one of my favorites. The Turn of The Screw, in my opinion, is largely about the human psyche, and its capacity to distort, imagine, and even terrorize, as was appropriate to the preoccupations of the early 20th century (including those of Henry James's brother). And while this wasn't deliberate, I think Rooms is reflective at least in part of the consumerist era. I wanted to write a book about our intimate relationship to the things we own and the spaces we inhabit, the way we--in the case of my ghosts, quite literally—become attached to our objects.
MW: When anyone writes about ghosts, they’re writing about history, because two realities are being kept maintained: the present and the past. Can you describe the technical challenges of including characters who've lived in another time?
LO: This is the first book I've written that really required research. So much of creating character is in the details of his or her experience, and when I started writing I didn't have a sense of what it was like to live in the 1920s or 1970s. It isn't just a question of accumulating facts, either. The era in which we grow up helps determine everything from our anxieties to our values to our vocabulary and use of language. So that was a tremendous challenge—one I enjoyed, however.
MW: In addition to being tense and propulsive, Rooms has a lyrical quality to it as well. I know that you have an MFA in Creative Writing, and I wondered to what extent that experience shaped the actual style of your prose.
LO: I grew up reading and luxuriating in the prose of Virginia Woolf and F. Scott Fitzgerald, so to a certain extent I think my prose has more to do with my early literary heroes. But it's true that NYU's MFA program does teach an almost telescopic attention to detail and prose.
MW: There are quite a few characters in Rooms, and their stories weave together seamlessly. The choreography of writing a novel like this one feels so elaborate. Did you have any models, any books you thought about or turned to when you were working?
LO: I love complex generational novels that move the reader back and forth through time—Love in The Time of Cholera, Little, Big, and Everything is Illuminated are three that come immediately to mind. Of course it would sound insane and deeply audacious to compare Rooms to any of these books: it is far more modest and contained in its efforts. But I do love novels that have an expansive feel and leapfrog us through different time frames.
MW: I’d love it if you talked about the ending—without giving anything away, of course. How much did you “know” when you began, and how different does the ending look now than it did when you first imagined it?
LO: I typically know exactly what an ending will be when I set out to write, but with Rooms, it was different. I knew the feel of what I wanted to evoke and I knew, in broad strokes, what would happen to the house and to the living characters. But I didn't know exactly how that would unfold or become manifest. I had to kind of grope my way toward it.
“In Oliver’s moody and mysterious novel, a pair of ghosts inhabits the house of the recently deceased Richard Walker and serves as an invisible chorus to his family’s bleak memories and motivations.” (O magazine)
“A sensational novel that easily glides between the normal and the paranormal. At times humorous, at times heartbreaking, ROOMS is always emotionally resonant and, despite the presence of ghosts, very, very real.” (—Ivy Pochoda author of Visitation Street)
“A chilling ghost story, and much, much more: Rooms is a magnificent gothic fugue on the themes of longing and buried secrets.”-Lev Grossman, bestselling author of The Magicians Trilogy (—Lev Grossman, bestselling author of The Magicians)
“A powerful haunted house story … Excellently paced… Ultimately, Rooms is an outstanding novel, with a brilliant array of characters...compelling and difficult to put away...it has stuck with me in ways that few books do. Oliver’s particular blend of fantasy is at times funny, other times heartbreaking.” (io9)
“…in this spectral soap opera there’s fun to be had as the plot’s many traps are set and then snapped shut.” (New York Times)
“A spirited new novel.” (W Magazine)
“Best-selling young adult novelist Lauren Oliver, author of Before I Fall and the Delirium trilogy, enters new territory with Rooms, her first novel for adults--though spooky supernatural elements remain.” (Wall Street Journal)
“[A] fantastic ghost story…. Highly recommend.” (Washingtonian, Top 10 Books for September 2014)
“ROOMS is, overall, a very successful work, and an impressive demonstration of Oliver’s craft.” (NPR)
“Lauren Oliver leaves the young-adult realm with her latest novel, in which the living and dead intersect, and family secrets are unearthed when you least expect it.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“[Oliver’s] first novel for adults, Rooms, is a ghost story, but is completely unlike any we’ve read before… an elegant blend of real and supernatural worlds.” (BookPage)
“Oliver skillfully weaves her tales together clearly and cleanly… The real strength of this novel is Oliver’s knack for rendering charmingly flawed characters with real-life problems and complicated relationships… Oliver’s prose is crisp and clean; it gives the book much of its energy.” (Washington Independent Review of Books)
“Pleasantly spooky.” (New York Times Book Review)
“A family faces its demons-such as sex addiction and alcoholism-when they gather after Dad’s death. (Adding stress: His house has ghosts!) A complex first adult novel from the Delirium writer.” (Us Weekly)
“[Oliver] turns triumphantly to adult fiction with her latest, Rooms… The last 50 pages of Rooms are as devastatingly emotional as any book I’ve recently encountered… For a thriller, that’s as strong a recommendation as I can make.” (Dallas Morning News)
“Lauren Oliver, best known for her Delirium series, makes her adult debut with the stand-out Rooms, a creepy ghost story and domestic family drama rolled into one.” (Publishers Weekly)
“[A] sweet-but-sad-totally-engrossing-reading-at-stop-lights-in-the-car kind of tale… A fabulous read-good for a mature tween straight on up.” (Chicago Now)
“Oliver’s first adult novel is packed with complex, flawed characters, and she manages to turn the ghosts’ observations into a story about how people are haunted by memories. It’s like a Wes Anderson movie in book form, with ghosts.” (io9)
From the Back Cover
After a number of highly acclaimed New York Times bestsellers, including the Delirium trilogy and the standalone novels Before I Fall and Panic, Lauren Oliver returns with a spellbinding tale that confirms her place as one of our finest storytellers. Fueled by the same inspired feel for plot and character that drew readers to Oliver's earlier works, Rooms is a mesmerizing and suspenseful story of guilt, love, and family secrets.
Estranged patriarch Richard Walker has died, leaving behind a country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His alienated family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.
But the Walkers are not alone. Alice and Sandra, two long-dead and restless ghosts, linger within the house's claustrophobic walls, bound eternally to its physical structure. Jostling for space and memory, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a lightbulb.
The living and dead are haunted by painful truths that surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.
Elegantly constructed and brilliantly paced, Rooms is an enticing and imaginative ghost story and a searing family drama that is as haunting as it is resonant.
Top customer reviews
Do you believe in ghosts? They believe in you.
Enchanting, thoughtful exploration of the physical homesteads we live in--and leave--as well as the houses we construct inside ourselves to house our selves.
Rooms is not a book that's meant to fright you; it's a book about forgiveness, love, being broken, and -- of course -- the nature of death. The story is told from multiple perspectives, and you slowly begin to piece together everyone's stories. Not a single one of the grown characters is likeable, but Oliver constructs them in such a way that you want them to keep fighting anyway.
The novel isn't groundbreaking; Oliver is originally a YA writer and, while her prose is beautiful, there is nothing earth-shattering in its conclusions or its characters. Even so, it was a wonderful read, and I enjoyed every second of it.
Started: October 26, 2014
Finished: November 3, 2014
ROOMS is the first of Ms. Oliver's novels I had read (although I have plans to read and review VANISHING GIRLS soon) ROOMS left me quite impressed; it fit in well with the interest in literary fiction I've developed over the past couple years. The author is very talented at developing character studies, which is an important criterion for me. I can't say I found any of the characters adorable, except little Amy, Adrienne, and the very clever Alice [the alliteration is totally unintended!]; but sometimes that's not the point. Lauren Oliver possesses such a gift for character revelation as to render moot the question of "likeability." Additionally, her use of the concept of sentient ghosts lingering in a residence to combine to form an omniscient narrative is excellent; and her prose is quite poetic.
The book wound up satisfactorily. The characters were developed enough. The plot had some unexpected twists. When some of the mysteries were unveiled, I got a little confused because the author has a way of referring to things rather than saying them outright. However, this was definitely a keeper for me.
The "living" characters are sad, broken and in pain. There is a glimpse of redemption here and there, but only the teenage boy that can hear the ghosts seem able to achieve it.
Reading this book requires paying attention and a capacity for forgiveness. The sadness within lingers.
There are some inconsistencies, as previous readers have said. But the writing is so gorgeous that is easy to forget.