Book Review // Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik

Dark Rooms Book Cover Dark Rooms
Lili Anolik
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
HarperCollins: William Morrow
March 3, 2015
HarperCollins via Edelweiss

The Secret History meets Sharp Objects in this stunning debut about murder and glamour set in the ambiguous and claustrophobic world of an exclusive New England prep school. Death sets the plot in motion: the murder of Nica Baker, beautiful, wild, enigmatic, and only sixteen. The crime is solved, and quickly—a lonely classmate, unrequited love, a suicide note confession—but memory and instinct won’t allow Nica’s older sister, Grace, to accept the case as closed. Dropping out of college and living at home, working at the moneyed and progressive private high school in Hartford, Connecticut, from which she recently graduated, Grace becomes increasingly obsessed with identifying and punishing the real killer. Compulsively readable, Lili Anolik’s debut novel combines the verbal dexterity of Marisha Pessl’s Special Topic in Calamity Physics and the haunting atmospherics and hairpin plot twists of Megan Abbott’s Dare Me.


“Compulsively readable,” is a perfect description because it is. I sat down on a Saturday morning and did not walk away from Dark Rooms until I was finished Saturday evening.

I was so entranced with the whodunit that I continued to read and read and read. It doesn’t hurt that the book fell into the suspense/thriller genre – my FAVORITE! When I was finished reading, I wasn’t happy tears crying because the characters all had a happy ending. They don’t, really. Grace and those close to her have closure. The realization that life has ups and downs, and one must navigate the best they can.

My likes:

Story: As you can tell by my opening, I liked it all. The story of Dark Rooms is based on a ‘murder mystery,’ but it develops into a story of everyday life: a sister/daughter finding her own balance in life as her family drifts apart due to her sister’s death. Of course, not every family has a story like this, but it’s not so far left field to be completely crazy.

Suspense: Dark Rooms does fall within this genre, but there is just enough suspense that I was guessing all the way to the last few chapters. Just when I thought I knew the killer another possible suspect was added to the list. There literally are several possibilities! It was at this point…that I thought I had it! Well, you’ll just have to read it!

“… Nica’s situation was extreme. If she felt like Mom was constantly following her around with the camera, that’s because Mom was. She was practically the only thing Mom ever photographed.”

My dislikes: These are not (normal) dislikes… just things other readers should be aware of.

Flow: The story is told with a current day and flashback flow. Sometimes back-and-forth movement like this can tend to cause confusion, but here it adds to the story. As a reader, you will gain insight from these moments. I was able to answer the, “Wait, what just happened?” questions when they arose.

Subject matter: There is some sexual content. Although the sex is not explicit there are some instances where it is described. My opinion, based on the whole novel, is that the sex is not used as filler. The situations are used to develop the story and the characters associated. Now that said, readers – be prepared for Nica’s main relationship in the story.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. The word ‘enjoyed’ sounds a bit wrong for the subject/content of the book, but I did enjoy Lili Anolik’s debut novel. As a reader, I was drawn into the story to make assumptions, like the characters, about the identity of the killer and I second-guessed myself the entire time. Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins via Edelweiss for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Author Lili Anolik

Lili Anolik is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Her work has also appeared in Harper’s, Elle, and The Believer, among other publications.

Her first novel, Dark Rooms, was published by William Morrow-HarperCollins in March 2015.

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