ARC Review: Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune


Under the Whispering Door is a contemporary fantasy with TJ Klune’s signature “quirk and charm” (PW) about a ghost who refuses to cross over and the ferryman he falls in love with

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.

By turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, this absorbing tale of grief and hope is told with TJ Klune’s signature warmth, humour, and extraordinary empathy.

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Thank you very much to Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing me with a review copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Under the Whispering Door is out on 21/9/21

Buy the novel:
Macmillan Dymocks | Amazon | Booktopia

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Death isn’t a final ending, Wallace. It is an ending, sure, but only to prepare you for a new beginning.

I thought after The House in the Cerulean Sea, TJ Klune couldn’t get any better and yet he managed to knock it out of the park yet again. But this book is quite different from The House in the Cerulean Sea in that it is sad. Very, very sad. It’s a book about death and grief and growing as a person, even after your life has ended. This is one of Klune’s most personal books, so expect to end the book a teary mess.

Wallace Price is a horrible person. He’s a self-interested lawyer who wants things done in a certain way, and when that fails, he usually fires the first person next to him. So when he finds himself at his own funeral and a Reaper shows up to tell him he’s dead and a ghost, Wallace doesn’t believe her and thinks that if he can just speak to the manager, this whole “being dead thing” can be sorted out. As Wallace is taken to a cute little tea shop, a way station before the afterlife, Wallace meets the shop’s owner, Hugo, and starts to form relationships with the humans and ghosts that live there. Pretty soon, Wallace has other reasons for not wanting to move onto the afterlife, but when a powerful magical being tells him he only has one week left before he must move on, Wallace must learn how to live in just a few days.

Under the Whispering Door could almost be called a queer retelling of A Christmas Carol: we have a horrible, cruel and wealthy man who refuses to help the people around him, a whole cast of quirky humans and non-humans alike who strive to teach him how to be a better person, and a lesson learnt by the end of the novel. A Christmas Carol is one of my favourite books so reading the comparisons between the two was fun — especially adding Klune’s fantastic queer take on it.

One of Klune’s greatest strengths as a writer is writing about really difficult topics but in a sweet, hopeful way — through humour and loveable characters. And in Under the Whispering Door he tackles perhaps the most difficult subject: grief. Losing someone is the worst things to imagine, and in this novel, Klune discusses what it would be like to realise your life has come to an end and you realise you didn’t enjoy a single moment and that you were someone that most people detested. Here, in this book, Klune asks, what if you were to mourn yourself, mourn the person you wish you were? Only in death does Wallace get this second chance, but hopefully you finish this book with a different outlook on life: understanding that you can start to change things in your own life that you might dislike before it becomes too late.

At the heart of this book, though, is a beautiful love story. Wallace and Hugo are two very different people, but with Hugo’s help, Wallace begins to learn how to be a better person — ghost — and they connect in truely lovely ways. But I also admire how Klune spends equal time focusing on other forms of love too: the love between a grandparent and grandchild, between two best friends, and between a human and their dog. It’s wonderful seeing so many different types of love being celebrated.

Under the Whispering Door is a book that many people are going to resonate with. If you’re looking for another comfort read like The House in the Cerulean Sea, you might be a bit disappointed, but this book is unique and original in its own way and deserves to be recognised the same. It will make you cry, laugh, cry and then cry some more.

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