“Everyone loses their way at some point, and it’s not just because of their mistakes or the decisions they make. It’s because they’re horribly, wonderfully human. And the one thing I’ve learned about being human is that we can’t do this alone. When we’re lost, we need help to try to find our way again.”
Wallace is dead. He knows he’s dead because he is watching his own sparsely attended funeral and a reaper is telling him that he’s dead. Wallace cannot believe it though, he still has so many things to do. The reaper takes Wallace to a small village and to a little tea shop run by a man called Hugo. Hugo is a ferryman, he houses ghosts until they’re ready to make the crossing to the afterlife. He is basically a therapist for ghosts, helping them make peace and accept the fact that they’re dead before leading them to the door that takes them to whatever comes next after death.
With Hugo’s help, Wallace begins to rethink the way he lived his life, trying to make peace with the way he squandered his one chance at life and also starts to fall in love with Hugo. When the Manager, Hugo’s boss, comes and gives Wallace an ultimatum to cross over in 7 days, he tries to rewrite some wrongs and make peace with crossing over to whatever comes next.
“Life is senseless, and on the off chance we find something that does make sense, we hold onto it as tightly as we can.”
Last year, we talked about Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea on our instagram (follow us @nightstands2). I really enjoyed the book so much and recommended it to everyone. It was an absolutely delightful book and if you’re looking for a feel good book, you should definitely check it out. Anyway, I picked up this book just off of how much I enjoyed his previous book. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I did his last. Under the Whispering Door never became the book I feel like Klune promised us by having this intriguing premise. It said nothing profound or different about life and death.
I kept waiting for Klune to say something, anything at all of note but he never rose to the occasion. This book brings nothing new to the table and it really disappointed me. The world Klune imagines here isn’t even intriguing enough to bring comfort to its readers. The ghosts are not diverse enough in their experiences with life to give us a full picture of different people’s experiences with death. We only get people who didn’t get to live a full life. So many people die everyday who lived a full, interesting and long life and we couldn’t get one example of a satisfied and happy ghost who didn’t need therapizing?
“It’s never enough, is it? Time. We always think we have so much of it, but when it really counts, we don’t have enough at all.”
This book is 373 pages but honestly, it could have been half that because nothing happens. We don’t see Wallace actually confronting his life and the decisions he made while living it. Wallace’s transformation to suddenly being a good person felt ridiculous because nothing prompted it. A lot of the sentences were repetitive and cliche and Lord, that contrived romance Klune shoved in there was the most eye rolling thing in the whole book. Hugo and Wallace had nothing in common, their love for each other seemed forced and completely out of nowhere. One of the reasons I loved House in the Cerulean Sea so much is because the romance between the two main characters was slowly built up. You could see it coming and you wanted it for both of them.
In this book, the main characters go from not getting along to suddenly being soooo in love without any leadup for us. I think one of the problems with this book is that Klune was committed to telling us instead of showing us a lot of things. If a ghost and a ferryman are going to fall in love when the ferryman has seen lots of ghosts and helped them cross without any entanglement, you better let us see exactly what is so different about this particular ghost.
“He hoped wherever he was going that there’d still be the sun and the moon and the stars. He’d spent a majority of his life with his head turned down. It seemed only fair that eternity would allow him to raise his face toward the sky.”
I don’t want to give the impression that there was nothing good about this book. I just have such high standards for Klune that I was simply more disappointed than I’d be with other authors. Klune’s signature humor is still in this one especially the first 20% of the book while Wallace is still trying to accept the fact that he’s a ghost. I also appreciate how much the author is committed to telling gay stories. His characters are always LGB and he always makes them full and realized human beings where being gay isn’t ever their entire story arc, just one important part of who they are.
Ultimately, this book was too drawn out and never strayed past the shallow. It’s like a book filled with cliche platitudes about how amazing life is and how we should live life to the fullest without actually digging deep and offering anything interesting or different. I gave this one 2 stars on Goodreads.
Have you read any T. J. Klune? Are you going to read this one? I really recommend The House in the Cerulean Sea. It’s fantastic.