Thursday, January 17, 2019

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Lewis Barnavelt #1), by John Bellairs (author), George Guidall (narrator)

Recorded Books, February 2018 (original publication June 1973)

In 1948, Lewis Barnavelt is orphaned at the age of ten when his parents are killed in a car crash. His Uncle Jonathan becomes his  guardian, and Lewis takes a long bus ride to a small town in New York, where Uncle Jonathan collects him and takes him to his home at the top of the very well-named High Street.

But Jonathan Barnavelt is not your average bachelor uncle who has suddenly inherited his brother's son. He and his neighbor & good friend, Mrs. Zimmerman, are witches. Jonathan's house previously owned by Isaac Izard and his wife, Serenna, who were also witches--but not good witches. They're dead, but not entirely gone. There's a clock, with a sinister purpose, somewhere in the walls of the house.

At first, Lewis is delighted just to watch the magic his uncle and Mrs. Zimmerman perform. What they show him is friendly magic, mainly for entertainment suitable for a child. Jonathan has quite serious magic books included in his library, but those are off limits to Lewis, though he has free run of the rest of it.

But Lewis is a lonely child, fat, unathletic, and far away from the few friends he had in his midwest home. He isn't making new friends here, until Tarby, a very popular boy, breaks his arm and is temporarily sidelined from sports. For a while, Tarby is happy to hang out with Lewis, try to improve his softball game, and come over to his house sometimes. But as the arm heals, Tarby is getting restless, and in an attempt to hold on to his one friend, Lewis makes a reckless promise--that he can raise the dead, and will demonstrate this to Tarby on Halloween.

He sneaks books from the magic section of the library, and on Halloween, he and Tarby accidentally choose the Izard mausoleum.

This is where Lewis discovers the unfriendly side of magic, and things get very, very scary.

The characters are well-developed and interesting. It's 1948, and a different world from today, or even from 1973, when it was written. Bellairs makes the world real and believable and lived-in, as different as it was from contemporary life even four decades ago. The magic is not a deus ex machina; it has its own complexities and price.

Recommended, even if you don't have a kid in your life to be your excuse.

This is an old favorite of---not my childhood, when theoretically it would have been appropriate. It hadn't even been written yet. In college, I read The Face in the Frost, and some time after that I met Bellairs at a book festival. In conversation, I learned that he had spent a year teaching English at the very college I was attending--a Catholic women's college.

He didn't like it there. That's why he only lasted one year. I mentioned him to my advisor at the school, the chair of the history department--who remembered him favorably, was sorry he hadn't stayed, and was happy to hear he was doing well. He asked me to pass on his good wishes, which I was able to do because by this time I had roped Bellairs into being a program participant at a local science fiction & fantasy convention. He was astounded that anyone from the college remembered him at all, much less favorably!

I suppose the only point of this digression is that we never know the impact we have on other people.

I bought this audiobook.

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