Holding back my thoughts on this one until the blog tour has been so hard! But it’s finally time to talk about Under the Whispering Door, so here goes…
Book: Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune
UK publication date: 28th October 2020
Ownership: Proof copy sent free of charge by Black Crow PR. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Death; grief in a lot of detail; mentions of suicide; discussion of terminal illness, including of children; death of a child.
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.
If I could choose one word to describe this book, it would be ‘warm’. It’s one of those things where it sounds so cheesy to say, but it just feels so warm and sweet and full of acceptance, like a big hug. It’s not that it doesn’t tackle difficult subjects, because obviously, given the content, it does, but while it could have been a big ball of preachiness, it sidesteps that so neatly and just leaves you feeling really hopeful and comforted. I cried, yes, but from such complicated emotions!
I was a huge fan of TJ Klune’s previous book, The House in the Cerulean Sea, and while the two books aren’t linked, they share a certain spirit of friendship (and romance) showing a character how to break out of the isolated rut they’ve gotten trapped into. But while Linus, the previous protagonist, was a lonely sweetheart, Wallace, our main character this time round is – to put it bluntly – a total arsehole. It’s an absolute wonder how someone so completely unlikeable to begin with can develop so brilliantly across the course of a book – the character work here is top notch. In fact, it’s not just Wallace who shines, but every single character in the tea shop is someone who’ll stick with me for a long time. The emotions and personalities are depicted so well that I couldn’t help but feel connected to everyone. Hugo is such a sweetheart, and I loved Mei, who combines confidence and insecurity so well.
Honestly, it’s a little bit tricky to describe a book like this, because reading it is such an experience. I can tell you that there’s some hilariously funny bits, and some terribly sad bits, and some hilariously-funny-and-terribly-sad bits, and some bits that just feel so raw and real and bittersweet… but I’m not sure that it’s enough, because part of falling in love with this book is letting the characters sweep you away. I will say that it’s fairly intense on the death and grief theme, so if you find that a difficult subject, it might not be one for you; I thought it was all dealt with really sensitively (and secularly!), but just be careful of your own limits. There is a content warning saying this upfront in the book, which I massively appreciate seeing.
So, I won’t say too much more, because I truly think this is a book you want to let flow over you. But if you enjoyed The House in the Cerulean Sea, this is another simply gorgeous read from TJ Klune, and if you like your fantasy warm and character-focused, with a heaping dose of heart, this is a must read. Five out of five cats!