Summary and book reviews of Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin

Forty Rooms

by Olga Grushin

Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Feb 2016, 352 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

The internationally acclaimed author of The Dream Life of Sukhanov now returns to gift us with Forty Rooms, which outshines even that prizewinning novel.

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 forty 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 he is protective of her. (He is also a great cook.) They 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.

BATHROOM:
THE TREE AT THE HEART OF THE WORLD

The bathroom is the first place to emerge from the haze of nonbeing. It is cramped and smells sweet and changes from time to time. When the world outside hardens with dark and cold, the sky-blue tiles grow icy and sting my naked soles, but pipes vibrate in a low, comforting hum and the water is hot and delightful; I plunge into it with a heedless splash, rushing to slide into soap suds up to my chin before the prickle of goose bumps overtakes me. Then the world swells stuffy and bright, and now the coolness of the floor feels nice, but the pipes lie chilled and inert; I watch the stream from a just-boiled teakettle hit the cold water inside the plastic bucket before I climb gingerly into the empty tub and wait for the sponge to dribble lukewarm rivulets down my back.

Most evenings the hands that touch me are the ones I know best, light and gentle, with a delicate ring on one finger and fingernails lovely and pink like flower petals. With the ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

It’s this gradual evolution – the giving up of dreams – that is superbly captured in its seamlessness. The narrator’s growth from a bright ambitious girl to the entirely dependent, yet seemingly content Mrs. Caldwell, the last name underscoring that her identity is now derived only through a husband, is moving and resonant.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review (657 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review

To the young women into whose hands I will most certainly be putting Grushin's novel, I will say this: You can do it all, but together we can create a world in which we might be able to do more. Because if we don't keep working for greater gender equality, it's not in the best interests of the current power brokers to stop us from continuing to spend more than a fair share of our lives elbow-deep in soapsuds whether we choose to or not.

The Wall Street Journal

[An] ingenious and original conceit...Forty Rooms is a deft, engaging novel written with rare eloquence. But a ferociously uncompromising morality play lurks within it.

The Chicago Tribune

Grushin beautifully renders a riddle of our time.

Vulture

[Grushin] spins a Bovary plot into a mystical tapestry, complete with ghostly harbingers, jarring shifts in perspective, and linguistic fillips most native-born writers would envy. She also crafts a feminist response to Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus — an artist navigating life backwards in heels.

Bustle Magazine

Filled with beautiful and surreal moments that perfectly capture the magic that can exist in real life, this book has extraordinary depth of imagination and emotion.

Publishers Weekly

Grushin best captures the nagging regrets of her tortured artist in a magically lyrical pair of conversations with her bitter and bowed husband. At the end of life, Grushin concludes that the impossible, irresistible path of art is what's most joyful - and memorable.

Booklist

Readers drawn to the mood and the complex psychological portrayal of the heroine will forgive the sometimes pretentious prose.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Honest, tender, and exquisitely crafted. A novel to savor.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Unusual Literary Devices

Olga Grushin's novel Forty Rooms is set in forty different rooms – from a childhood bathroom to her father's study in Russia, and on to a dorm room, and eventually the many rooms in her large suburban American home in which she lives with her husband and six children.

The number forty comes from the idea that the average modern person will occupy forty rooms in his or her lifetime. And so Grushin strategically allows her narrator's life to unfold in the many rooms she inhabits over the novel's narrative arc. For example, it is in her new home's master veranda that the narrator and her husband debate the virtues of homeownership; and in their home's bar that she realizes how troubled her husband's job ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Forty Rooms, try these:

  • Tuesday Nights in 1980 jacket

    Tuesday Nights in 1980

    by Molly Prentiss

    Published 2017

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    An intoxicating and transcendent debut novel that follows a critic, an artist, and their shared muse as they find their way - and ultimately collide - amid the ever-evolving New York City art scene of the 1980s.

  • Shotgun Lovesongs jacket

    Shotgun Lovesongs

    by Nickolas Butler

    Published 2015

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Seldom has the American heartland been so richly and accurately portrayed. A rare work of fiction that evokes a specific time and place yet movingly describes the universal human condition - a novel that once read will never be forgotten.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Rules of Magic
    The Rules of Magic
    by Alice Hoffman
    Alice Hoffman's Rules of Magic is the long-awaited prequel to one of her most cherished novels,...
  • Book Jacket: Good Me Bad Me
    Good Me Bad Me
    by Ali Land
    Is a psychopath born or made? This is the terrifying question that author Ali Land explores in her ...
  • Book Jacket: Five-Carat Soul
    Five-Carat Soul
    by James McBride
    In the short story "Sonny's Blues," from the 1965 collection Going to Meet the Man, African-...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

An eye-opening and riveting look at how how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Seven Days of Us
    by Francesca Hornak

    A warm, wry debut novel about a family forced to spend a week together over the holidays.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Wisdom of Sundays

The Wisdom of Sundays
by Oprah Winfrey

Life-changing insights from super soul conversations.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A Good M I H T F

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.