Updated: Mar 11, 2022
Release Date: October 28th 2021
Trigger warnings: death, grief, suicide (mentioned), murder (mentioned), child death (mentioned), animal death (there is a ghost dog), mental illness.
With a whimsical tea-room backdrop worthy of a Ghibli film, a lovable cast of characters, and Klune’s uncanny ability to spin a tale that is both hilarious and emotionally devastating, Under the Whispering Door is a welcome successor to The House in the Cerulean Sea.
Wallace Price is a modern Ebenezer Scrooge: a corporate-drone lawyer with no friends, a few business partners, a bitter ex-wife, and no life beyond his work and expensive suits. And then, to his disbelief, he dies. He witnesses his own sparsely attended funeral, before being whisked away to the idyllic Charon’s Crossing Tearoom: the final stop before whatever comes next.
Wallace’s character development is the driving force of the novel. In death, he is finally forced to reflect on his behaviour. But, unlike Scrooge, the change isn’t motivated by fear of a hellish afterlife (this isn’t that sort of novel!) but by a genuine desire to be a better person. This is a book about learning to be kind, both to yourself and those around you.
On his introspective journey, he’s helped along by a vivid cast of characters:
Mei, a Grim Reaper with a fondness for threatening violence, shrewd one-liners and baking muffins.
Nelson, an elderly ghost with a penchant for practical jokes, asking the hard questions, and hitting people with his cane.
Apollo, a ghost-dog (what more can I say?).
Finally, we have Wallace’s love interest, Hugo. To outsiders, Hugo is a friendly tea-shop owner. But to those in the know, he’s a ferryman, whose job is to help ghosts cross over to the other side.
What I love most about Klune’s work is the humour, and there were plenty of lines in Under the Whispering Door that had me grinning to myself. There are some cringe-based jokes that I had to speed through (I get such bad second-hand embarrassment!) but the other scenes more than make up for it. For instance, I had no idea I needed a comedy based around a ghost messing with fraudulent psychics until now. If you liked Ghosts or The Good Place, there’s a good chance you will also enjoy this novel.
Unfortunately, there are a few places where I feel that the novel falls a little short. As this is a spoiler-free review, I’ll keep it vague. As mentioned, Wallace’s character development is one of the major driving forces of the plot, but I felt as if the switch from ‘mean businessman,’ to ‘empathetic ghost’ was a little quick. It was largely explained as Wallace not understanding the impact of his actions on others, but given that he is middle-aged, I found this a little strange. This had a knock-on effect in regards to how I viewed the romance. I also found that certain sections of dialogue were a little repetitive. This is a novel about death and grief – complex, messy topics which in most areas were handled well. However, there were instances where the characters expressed previously explored ideas, simply rephrased.
I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t like the novel: these ‘flaws’ (if you can even call them that!) definitely didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment while reading. It is still a beautiful piece of storytelling, one that made me laugh and cry in equal measure.
Star Rating: 4/5
Available for purchase here: