Under the Whispering Door is a tale of redemption after death. Workaholic attorney Wallace Price dies alone and unlamented, a hardass unliked by all. It is only after death that he realizes what he was missing. Wallace is surprised to discover that life continues after death, only nobody can see or hear him, except a young woman called Mei. Mei sees all too much. She leads him to a peculiar tea shop in small-town America, a place Wallace wouldn’t want to be caught dead in.
What Is Under the Whispering Door?
Under the Whispering Door is hard to categorize. It might just about pass off as paranormal romance, but that doesn’t remotely do it justice. There’s a lot going on here.
First up, we have a Good Place type scenario where Wallace learns more about life whilst dead than he ever realized when he was alive. Then we have a fascinating life-after-death mythology with the tea shop and its custodian, Hugo, who also acts as the guide across the river to whatever comes next. The novel has some romance elements, brought about by Wallace’s enlightenment and bitter-sweet core that melds romantic comedy with an examination of the pain of suicide and the loss of a child. Finally, there is the question of exactly what lies “Under the Whispering Door.”
Author TJ Klune weaves all his threads into an emotionally affecting whole. In many ways, it feels like the premise ought not to work—“The After-life in a Twin Peaks cafe.” On second thought, maybe that sounds exactly like it should work. And work it does!
Why Read Under the Whispering Door?
Under the Whispering Door probably isn’t the sort of book that I would normally read. One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the strange balancing house on the front of the book drew me to it. I must confess the book didn’t always thrill me. I found the middle third a little leaden, but this dissatisfaction is far outweighed by the many things that I did enjoy about the book. The opening setup is excellent; it pulls you in and keeps you wanting to learn more about Wallace, Mei, and Hugo.
Characterization is strong. There are four central players in the piece, including Hugo’s grandfather, who adds some of the book’s lighter moments. But the stand-out features of the book are its depiction of a life examined, its handling of grief, and the sensitive way in which it assesses suicide and depression. Under the Whispering Door is not always an easy read, opening with an author’s note that it deals with some difficult issues, but, ultimately, this is a life-affirming novel and one that offers hope to those who have lost loved ones.
Whilst I may not usually read a book like Under the Whispering Door, I’m so glad I did. It’s laced with humor and sensitively handles some very difficult topics. It’s a novel that makes you think about many different aspects of life and death and ultimately leaves you with a warm feeling inside.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of Under the Whispering Door you can do so here in the US, and here in the UK. If you enjoyed this review, do check out my other book reviews, here.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.