This book by John Bellairs scared the dickens out of me when I was a child, so I’ve been hunting for a while now. Only I had forgotten the author’s name and got the title mixed up with Bell, Book, and Candle, maybe because it has books and lights and noisy things in it, or maybe because the same author wrote The Bell, The Book, and the Spellbinder. But it was one of the books from childhood that I remember deeply.
Then one day I went to a new library branch and the book jumped out at me. The House With a Clock in its Walls. And I’ve just finished it. Sometimes when you reread a book you loved as a child, by the time you reach adulthood you’ve grown so much that the book is now dull. But this one did not disappoint.
This is a deeply scary book. Not just because of the clock hidden somewhere in the walls of a creepy old house, not just because it’s a doomsday clock set to end the world, and not just because the illustrations were done by Edward Gorey. It’s scary mainly because the main character, a boy named Lewis, made a serious ethical mistake, and he nurses his fear and guilt through much of the book.
I bet every child can identify.
Bellairs is quite gentle on Lewis, and on the reader as well. He’s careful to mention that Lewis’ uncle would understand, and he’s also considerate enough to mention that Lewis will make it to adulthood. Bellairs is also kind to all the characters in the book. (Well, the living ones, at any rate.) Even the bully.
And the prose is lovely – expressive, surprising, and smooth. Here’s a short excerpt:
Lewis got up, wiped his hands on his trousers, and tugged at the enormous cardboard suitcase that hung out over the edge of the metal rack. Lewis’ father had brought the suitcase in London at the end of World War II. It was covered with ripped and faded Cunard Line stickers. Lewis pulled hard, and the suitcase lurched down onto his head. He staggered back across the aisle with the suitcase held perilously in the air; then he sat down suddenly, and the suitcase landed in his lap with a whump.
“Oh, come on! Don’t kill yourself before I have a chance to meet you!”
There in the aisle stood a man with a bushy red beard that was streaked in several places with white.”
All in all, it’s a hard read but a good one. I’m glad to have read it. (Twice.)