Title: Under the Whispering Door
Author: T.J. Klune
Published: September, 2021
Genre: SFF, LGBTQIA+
Content warnings: Death, murder, suicide, grief/grieving, death of a child
I received a copy of the Under the Whispering Door from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
A Man Called Ove meets The Good Place in Under the Whispering Door, a delightful queer love story from TJ Klune, author of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller The House in the Cerulean Sea.
Welcome to Charon’s Crossing.
The tea is hot, the scones are fresh, and the dead are just passing through.
When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own funeral, Wallace begins to suspect he might be dead.
And when Hugo, the owner of a peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace decides he’s definitely dead.
But even in death he’s not ready to abandon the life he barely lived, so when Wallace is given one week to cross over, he sets about living a lifetime in seven days.
Hilarious, haunting, and kind, Under the Whispering Door is an uplifting story about a life spent at the office and a death spent building a home.
I am a huge fan of T.J. Klune’s writing (I’ve not read anything of his yet that I haven’t enjoyed) and he sits up there with authors like Becky Chambers who I’ve come to expect quiet, moving stories from… and they might just happen to feature a few out of this world characters, too. To say I’ve been anticipating this book is probably a little misleading, because I’ve had the arc of this sitting on my Kindle for months and sometimes expectation makes me reluctant to start things because I’m worried I’ll be disappointed.
So, was I disappointed? Not really.
I will go into this prefacing that it does feel a bit oddly paced and possibly a little too long in places. It doesn’t feel as tightly plotted as some of his other work, but I still enjoyed myself regardless because of the kind of book it was.
Wallace – a lawyer by trade, and not a very nice one, dies and is met by his Reaper at his funeral. Brought to a way station for souls on their way to the other side, Wallace meets Hugo, a ferryman who’s job it is to help deceased souls come to grips with the death and the path laid before them.
Like a lot of his Klune’s previous works, this book is very quiet and it takes place almost exclusively at Hugo’s tea shop, so the setting and characters are very contained. There’s a small core cast of characters, plus a few supporting characters who pop in and out of the narrative, but there’s the signature element of found family that underlines the entire thing.
The whole book is told from Wallace’s perspective, and he goes from a very self-centered man in his life to angry about his death and then moves towards acceptance and finding that it’s possible to change even after death. There are plenty of references to the stages of grieving and how everyone processes events (not just death) in different ways. Hugo’s job is part-counsellor, part-confidant for those who come to him before they pass on, and he has his own history of anxiety and death of loved ones that has prompted him to embody the role he has taken on.
While it may not have been the best-paced of Klune’s books, it was definitely one that explores some interesting ideas. ‘Death’ (both the reality and the idea of a character of ‘Death’) is a topic I do like seeing explored in books – because depending on your background and beliefs, people see it in different ways and I love those discussions. So even though Under the Whispering Door doesn’t hit the same notes for me as The House in the Cerulean Sea or the Green Creek series, I was very invested in the story and the characters and enjoyed my time reading it.