Sep 1, 2007

The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs

The protagonist of The House with a Clock in its Walls is Lewis Barnavelt, a ten-year-old boy who, after the death of his parents, goes to live with his uncle Jonathan in a town called New Zebedee. Lewis soon realizes that both his uncle and his neighbour, Mrs. Zimmerman, act a little strange sometimes, and it doesn’t take him long to find out why: it turns out that they are, respectively, a wizard and a witch.

The house where Uncle Jonathan lives used to belong to a dark wizard by the name of Isaac Izard. One of its peculiarities is the fact that one can hear the sound of a clock ticking inside its walls. In front of Lewis, Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman act like that’s not a big deal, but Lewis suspects there might be more to it than they let out. He ends up being proven right by a series of events that are set off when he plays with necromancy on Halloween night to impress a school friend.

Lewis Barnavelt is a good character. He is an insecure boy – overweight and very bad at sports, he has a hard time making friends. The mistakes he makes are understandable. They come from his fear of being abandoned, of losing yet more people that are important to him. In the end, his flaws make him even more likeable, especially because he proves himself capable of overcoming them and doing the right thing at crucial moments.

This novel is written in a style that reminded me a little of Roald Dahl, and that can only be a good thing. I think that what I liked the most about the story was the fact that it had just the right amounts of both creepiness and comfort. The novel has a gothic feel to it, but there are also some Griffyndor-common-room-esque moments spent eating chocolate chip cookies and drinking hot cocoa around the fire:

Edward Gorey’s illustrations are a wonderful addition to the story:

There are nine more mysteries featuring Lewis Barnavelt, but unfortunately only the first three were written by John Bellairs. The following three were started and outline by him, but finished by Brad Strickland, and the remaining were written by Brad Strickland alone. I am usually suspicious of series that are continued by anyone other than the original author, but I am willing to give this one a try, because I really can see it becoming a comfort series for me.

Other Blog Reviews:
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Words by Annie
Poodlerat's Book Blog
The Zen Leaf
Necromancy Never Pays


  1. I need to get off my butt and check to see if I can find older versions of these books with the Edward Gorey covers. I read some of these when I was a kid that I picked up because of the Gorey covers and, for nostalgia's sake, I'd really like to get my hands on a few. So glad that this was as entertaining as I remember them being.

  2. "This novel is written in a style that reminded me a little of Roald Dahl, and that can only be a good thing."


  3. I'm so glad that you liked it :) I can assure you that all three of the books that Bellairs wrote are great...I haven't read the rest of the series because...well, I just haven't been able to bring myself to since Bellairs didn't write them. But now that I know he did outline them, I may give them a try.

    I love the comparison you made to the Gryffindor common room moments. That's perfect! I really love the characters in this series...and Gorey's illustrations are wonderful! Mercer Mayer illustrated the second book, and those are done well too. Not crazy about the illustrations in the third book though. Forgot the illustrators name.

  4. I've never heard of this series but it sounds like something I would like and I perfect book to recommend in the shop to Harry Potter-starved customers:)

  5. I've never heard of these either, but I MUST find this book. Even if I don't get to reading it soon, I know Annie would absolutely love it! Thanks, as always!

  6. I recently saw this book somewhere - probably on Amazon when I was surfing - and thought it sounded interesting.

    It's now on my wish list. It sounds like a book I'd love. Thanks for another great review, Nymeth.


  7. Ah, yes, I remember this one. Good stuff! I'm trying to track down the Gorey covers too. I haven't read any of the Strackland ones yet, either, I'll be interested in hearing what you think of them.

  8. wow! i'd never heard of this! it sounds very cool.

    i especially the idea of being able to hear the clock through the walls...!

  9. See what I mean?? I come over here and find reviews for wonderful books that I've never heard of before!! I'm definitely going to be checking the libraries for this series!!

  10. Sounds like a good read...I've never heard of this author either. I'll have to check this out. Thanks for the great review!

  11. I fall in with the group who have never heard of this author. But it looks like I need to find out more about him.

  12. I love these books by Bellairs - especially the ones that feature Lewis's friend Rose Rita as the protagonist (The Letter, the Witch and the Ring was the first one - and I seem to remember she was in others, too, but it's been a while). I read one or two of the Brad Stickland ones, and they were just kind of eh, as I recall.

  13. Now this sounds interesting! The comparison with Roald Dahl and the Gorey illustrations have me sold!

    Might have to try and find a copy for my nephew's birthday in October. This sounds perfect!

    Great review Nymeth, as always!

  14. Carl: I'd have loved to read these as a kid, but they are definitely books that are a lot of fun for adults as well.

    Toni: Isn't Roald Dahl wonderful?

    Chris: I can understand that feeling. I will definitely read the others by Bellairs soon, and then give the rest a try just to see if I like them. I am slightly disappointed that Gorey didn't illustrate the rest of the series, but I'm also curious to see Mayer's work.

    Valentina: It really would be great for that!

    Debi: I think these are perfect for Annie!

    CJ: I had never heard of this series until Chris reviewed them. It seems that it's not as well-known as it deserves to be. I hope you enjoy it when you get around to reading

    Nicola: I'm not sure when I'll get around to reading it, but I'll make sure I post reviews when I do.

    Jean Pierre: Isn't it a deliciously creepy touch?

    Stephanie: I do see what you mean... the same's been happening to me. The review site is dangerous :P

    Melody and Framed: I only heard of him recently... he seems to be a lot less famous than he should be!

    Darla: That is too bad. And it seems to happen often when another author continues a series. Ah well, I'd still like to give them a shot. Rose Rita was mentioned at the very ending of this book. I did wonder if she'd become an important character later on.

    Quixotic: Thanks! I think both you and your nephew would enjoy this.

  15. This sounds fun! Comparing it to Roald Dahl is always a good thing. Zebedee always makes me think about The Magic Roundabout hehe. I will look out for it.

  16. I can't believe it's not in print in the UK!!!arghh!

  17. Rhinoa: It really is a fun book. And all this talk of Roald Dahl made me realize that I miss his books.

    Valentina: That is too bad :( Mine is a Puffin Books edition, and I could it from so I thought they'd be available there.

  18. I missed reading Bellairs when I was younger; looks like I have yet another author to catch up with.

  19. Oh, yes, another one on the "If it resembles a Dahl book, it must be good" train. I'm writing down the title to this one. Thanks for another terrific review. You're unfailingly persuasive.

  20. I remember reading it long time back. I think I will re-read it. Thanks for recalling it all for me!

  21. I wasn't much in the mood for what looked like a children's book when I first read this, but now that Amanda has informed me that necromancy never pays in it, I'm moving it up on my list of books to find and read.

  22. Nymeth, so glad to see you enjoyed this one. It was one of my absolute favorites when I was growing up. I must have read and reread it, and all the others, a zillion times. They are all good, but I've always been especially fond of the first three.

    And now I have this irresistible urge to dig through my shelves and find A House With a Clock in Its Walls for a reread!

  23. I always feel so guilty to find old comments I never answered. They won't see this, but sorry Nancy and Marina and Guatami!

    Jeanne, it is a children's book, and it shows. But it's a fun and delightfully creepy one!

    Belle: I've only read the first three because I was unsure about someone else continuing the series. I hear the others are good too, though, so I'll give them a try sometime.


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