Book Review: Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune
I have mixed feelings about this book. I love TJ Klune’s writing and amazing characterization, but this one didn’t work well with me. Being a story about about a man who died and the afterlife, I was expecting something along the lines of ‘The Good Place’ and ‘On a Pale Horse’. Instead, it’s about, well, redemption through connecting through others and hanging around a tea shop.
I think my main problem is that the book hinges on the character journey of Wallace Price, lawyer turned ghost, changing from a selfish to a compassionate and self-sacrificing person. And I couldn’t buy his transformation. He starts off a caricature–a terrible lawyer who spends his opening scene sacking his secretary. He appears as a ghost at his funeral, a miserable affair where everyone who show up discusses how they hate him. Then he’s escorted by perky Mei, a ‘reaper’, to Hugo, the ‘ferryman’. Hugo’s a nice guy who runs a teashop, but his main job is counseling ghosts until they’re ready to pass through ‘the door’ that takes them to the afterlife. During Wallace’s stay at the teashop, he bonds with the supporting cast (including a ghost dog and Hugo’s ghostly grandfather), develops a deep connection with Hugo, and assists several other tormented people through the course of the story.
But Wallace’s shift–from his initial introduction as a caricature with slowly deepening layers–didn’t work for me. Also, the core problems that Hugo resolves in the story started ‘off camera’ and are narrated to Wallace in conversations, making them feel one step removed. The initial thrust of the book–hanging around a teashop–feels devoid of action and narrative drive. And the wacky comedy bits feel out of place.
But there are some awesome subplots, especially the Cameron story. And the book has some powerful things to discuss about death and grief.
It’s good, and will appeal to readers in a contemplative frame of mind.