Totally original in conception and magnificently executed, Forty Rooms is mysterious, withholding, and ultimately emotionally devastating. Olga Grushin is dealing with issues of women's identity - of women's choices - that no modern novel has explored so deeply.
"Forty rooms" is a conceit: It proposes that a modern woman will inhabit 40 rooms in her lifetime. They form her biography, from childhood to death. For our protagonist, the much-loved child of a late marriage, the first rooms she is aware of as she nears the age of five are those that make up her family's Moscow apartment. We follow this child as she reaches adolescence, leaves home to study in America, and slowly discovers sexual happiness and love. But her hunger for adventure and her longing to be a great poet conspire to kill the affair. She seems to have made her choice. But one day she runs into a college classmate. He is sure of his path through life and is protective of her, and they eventually drift into an affair and marriage.
What follows are the decades of births and deaths, the celebrations, material accumulations, and home comforts - until one day, her children grown and gone, her husband absent, she finds herself alone except for the ghosts of her youth, who have come back to haunt and even taunt her.
Compelling and complex, Forty Rooms is also profoundly affecting, its ending shattering but true. We know that Mrs. Caldwell (for that is the only name by which we know her) has died. Was it a life well lived? Quite likely. Was it a life complete? Does such a life ever really exist? Life is, after all, full of trade-offs and choices. Who is to say her path was not well taken? It is this ambiguity that is at the heart of this provocative novel.
©2016 Olga Grushin (P)2016 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
I thought it was a different book. I started listening and it was so horrible, which made me realize this couldn't have been the book that was recommended to me. Sure enough, it was the wrong book.
While I found the beginning slow and didn't connect at first it pays to have patience with this book. It's glorious. The performance is excellent. There is an abundance of exquisite phrases and expressions that put it in rare company. As an artist, the themes felt sharply familiar. What is a life well lived? Am I dedicated enough to my practice? Is it really about the little things?
Somehow having some of my feelings and uneasy thoughts put into words is comforting and perhaps helps me make sense of them. Recommended to all lovers of literature and for those craving a taste of immortality.
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