Under The Whispering Door is TJ Klune’s latest novel, a story as cosy as the well-loved House on the Cerulean Sea that tackles more melancholic themes relating to death, the afterlife, and redemption. This book is exactly what I expected from the author. It’s character-driven, quirky, and loveable. If you love his other books, you’ll love this one. I wanted a little more depth and nuance to the themes, but overall this was an enjoyable, whimsical read.
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 a contemporary fantasy about a ghost who refuses to cross over and the ferryman he falls in love with.
Wallace Price is a terrible man who cares more about money and his business’s efficiency than people. Then he dies. A reaper collects him from his funeral, but instead of taking him to the afterlife, they go to a quirky tea shop in a small village. There Wallace meets Hugo, the Ferryman whose job it is to help souls cross over. But Wallace isn’t ready to leave, especially as he begins to learn more about what he missed in his cruel, short life.
There’s something so loveable about TJ Klune’s type of humour, and this book is filled to the brim with it. Even though Under The Whispering Door tackles heavy, dark topics, there is a lightheartedness to it that lends itself to a comfort read. The dark elements are balanced with a constant undercurrent of hopefulness. It turns what could be an incredibly depressing story into one that’s quirky and sweet.
One of the major themes in this book is that everyone is deserving of redemption. Wallace starts as a horrible businessman and slowly comes to find love in friendship and kindness. I agree with the message that it’s never too late to turn your life (or death, I guess) around and work towards becoming a better person. It’s something we all need to be reminded of sometimes. At the same time, Wallace didn’t do enough in my eyes to justify his redemption. The character we see right at the beginning of the book seems to wash away too easily. There needed to be more introspection, a more compelling reason for the change. I didn’t find it believable that someone like Wallace would use their death as a motivating factor to become a better person; why did he never do it before? I wanted more nuance on how someone like that could better themselves. Regardless, I did have fun with this hopeful message of change being possible.
The characters in this book were just as loveable and quirky as I expected. I loved Hugo, Mei, Nelson, and the good dog Apollo. I even loved Wallace towards the end (albeit reluctantly). All the character’s radiate a feeling of warmth and kindness. They didn’t necessarily have a huge amount of depth to them, but they were vibrant all the same.
I can see what TJ Klune was trying to do with some of the tropes related to these characters, but I don’t think he was fully successful. Hugo is a black man who does an intense amount of emotional labour for the white main character. TJ Klune didn’t quite manage to distance him from the Magical Negro trope. If anyone doesn’t know what that trope is: it’s where a black character with mystical powers exists to aid the white protagonists. Unfortunately, Hugo does fit into that. Having a stronger depth to Hugo’s character or even an interest that wasn’t related to emotional labour might have helped. I also found Mei’s mum being a Chinese woman who wanted to assimilate to American culture so badly she rejected her child to leave a bad taste. Yes, this can happen in real life, but white authors so often speak about immigration negatively, it would have been nice to see something different here. TJ Klune was trying to create characters filled with love and kindness, despite the difficulties they have in their lives. I appreciate that, but these critiques still need to be considered.
Overall, I have slightly mixed feelings about this book. It was loveable, enjoyable, quirky, emotional, and hopeful. It’s everything you could want from a TJ Klune book; if you love this author, you need to read it. At the same time, there were a few tropes I thought could have been handled better and with more nuance to them. I wanted a little more complexity.
CW: Death, Grief, Suicide, Murder, Death of a Pet, Death of a Child, Death of a Parent
(Thanks to Tor and Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review)
TJ KLUNE is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include the Green Creek series, The House on the Cerulean Sea and The Exraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.
Among Thieves is out now, so there’s never been a better time to grab a copy!
If you want to remember to check out this book you should Add to Goodreads!
You can order the book from major retail sites such as Blackwells or Waterstones!
I’d recommend checking out your local indie bookshop! If you’re in the UK you can use bookshop.org!
3 thoughts on “Is Everyone Redeemable? // Under The Whispering Door”
Yess Under The Whispering Door is one of my most anticipated reads this year and after seeing so many positive reviews I just KNOW I won’t be disappointed! Loved the insightful review Bertie 💙
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Thank you! I hope you love it, it was so much fun to read 💕
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