Rebecca's Reviews > Forty Rooms

Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin
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really liked it
bookshelves: read-via-edelweiss, feminist, magic-realism, best-of-2016

(Nearly 4.5) Each of us is said to occupy 40 rooms in our lives. This novel in 40 vignettes, one per room, tells the life story of a Russian immigrant to America who dreams of becoming a poet. As a child she converses with the dead and with imaginary friends, a habit that continues into adulthood. It is as if she occasionally gets glimpses into the mystical reality behind everyday life, and the poems she writes in her head are her way of tapping into that something more. But she instead ends up a suburban housewife and mother of six with a huge house to maintain; this previously unnamed character becomes known as “Mrs. Caldwell” and gets stuck in a 1950s-like life that has seemingly just happened to her rather than been a product of incremental choices.

This is thus a powerful cautionary tale about the twin dangers of defining yourself in terms of your roles and relationships and squandering your creative gifts. It has a classic feminist tinge, like The Yellow Wallpaper or A Room of One’s Own (she says, having read neither!). I feel this book will resonate with women of every age, prompting them to question the path they’ve taken, the passions they’ve left unexplored, and whether it’s too late to change. I didn’t like the magic realism of the last few chapters as much – I guess I stubbornly, prosaically, like to know what actually happens in a novel – but in general it adds a Russian folktale flavor to the narrative. And Grushin’s writing is simply exquisite. I’ve marked out far too many passages to try to share them all here, and can only recommend that you experience it for yourself.
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Reading Progress

January 6, 2016 – Shelved
January 6, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
March 27, 2016 – Started Reading
March 27, 2016 – Shelved as: read-via-edelweiss
March 30, 2016 – Shelved as: on-hold
April 23, 2016 – Shelved as: on-hold
December 8, 2016 – Shelved as: feminist
December 8, 2016 – Shelved as: magic-realism
December 8, 2016 – Finished Reading
December 16, 2016 – Shelved as: best-of-2016

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Diane S ☔ (new) - added it

Diane S ☔ Wonderful review, Rebecca.


Rebecca Thank you, Diane. I feel like this book was somewhat overlooked this year, although it has some real champions here on GR.


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