John Bellairs, The House with the Clock in its Walls, Piccadilly Press, September 2018, 192 pp., RRP $14.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781848127715
This story, first published in 1973, and now re-issued to tie in with a movie released in 2018, is a good supernatural story. Though it occasionally shows signs of its age, in the syntax and vocabulary, young readers will enjoy the twists and turns, and the expectations as the story unfolds. I haven’t seen the movie, but there were many elements which struck meas having cinematic possibilities. Recently-orphaned 10 year-old Lewis Barnavelt goes to live with his Uncle Jonathan in his magical house, where windows and rooms change shape, colour and outlook, and where there is a clock, constantly ticking within the walls, which Uncle Jonathan can’t find, despite his nightly prowlings.
Lewis is fat, unsporty and bullied because of it; he’s timid and uncertain of himself and he lies rather than admit he’s done wrong. It’s good to have a protagonist who is so flawed. But he is loved and cuddled by his Uncle Jonathan and is allowed to be his eccentric self in this strange house. Mrs Zimmermann, the next-door neighbour, has equal but different supernatural powers and she is also loving and giving. Together the three main characters with their unconventional relationships work together to work out why and where the clock is and how they can exorcise it from the house. There are other important characters: the ‘baddies’, the late Isaac Izard and his wife Selenna who built and fashioned all the paranormal elements in the house with its hidden clock. Lewis finally discovers he has inherited some of the family’s mystic traits.
It’s a good read with low scary content for sensitive readers but enough mystery and the unexplained to keep the attention of everyone. There’s quite a lot of humour and the ink drawings add to the atmosphere.
Recommended for middle school readers.
Reviewed by Maureen Mann