Title: The House with a Clock in Its Walls
Author: John Bellairs
Published: 1973
Publisher: Puffin Books
Audiobook Narrator: George Guidall

I don’t watch many film trailers, and whenever one pops up during a YouTube binge session, I almost always hit the “skip ad” button five seconds in to it. Something was different about the trailer for The House with a Clock in Its Walls. The film stars Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, and is directed by the horror icon Eli Roth, and this combination, plus how Harry Potter the whole thing felt, drew me in. I immediately wanted to check it out.

While I was patiently waiting for the film to hit home video, Audible put the audiobook up for sale at $1.95 as a Daily Deal for members. Because I was so interested in checking out the film, I decided I would pick up the audiobook and read that before seeing the film. This was a quick listen at just over four hours, but my feelings on the novel are more mixed than I’d hoped.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs is actually the first story in the main character’s, Lewis Barnavelt’s, series. The series runs twelve books, and it started in 1976 with this release. It then slowly continued all the way to 2008, even switching authors midway through the series. The story follows Lewis as he moves to Michigan to live with his Uncle Johnathan. He has never met this uncle, but because his parents recently died in a car accident, this is the closest family he can turn to for support.

Lewis quickly discovers this Uncle Jonathan is actually a warlock, and his best friend, Florence, is a witch. The titular house with a clock in its walls is also here, and the trio’s attempt to find and remove this clock is the driving force behind the story. That honestly sounds silly, but it’s actually given a bit of weight as the story moves on.

The biggest disappointment with Clock in Its Walls is that the story seems a bit unfocused. The characters are given a specific goal – find this clock, and stop it – yet that seems to take a back seat for the majority of the novel. Instead, Bellairs focuses in on various other, smaller moments in Lewis’ day. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing on its own as it did help me fall for the characters, who are all quite likable. But at the end of the day, when we finally get back to the main story, it feels rushed and unfulfilling. The end of the story happens too quickly, and has almost no tension before the resolution.

Another example of this comes with Lewis making new friends. This is something that Bellairs spends a good amount of time discussing, and it is clearly important to Lewis. Hell, this hunt for friendship is the inciting action that leads to the climax and conclusion of the entire novel! By the end of it, though, Bellairs tosses this idea aside, and gives us a brief couple lines relating to this theme at the end. It’s a great example of the “show, don’t tell” mantra you always hear tossed around. Instead of adding in a couple lines about a new friendship Lewis may be developing, why not spend a few pages to allow the reader to enjoy this interaction?

The audiobook is narrated by George Guidall, and he does a really nice job with the material. The different voices he creates for the characters will definitely appeal to the target audience of this book. His performance is not as strong as, say, Stephen Fry with the Harry Potter series, but he’s darn close. I do not have anything negative to say about Guidall’s performance as he does the novel justice.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a short novel aimed at young audiences, so I can forgive most of its flaws. I was interested from start to finish, and it actually introduces horror elements really well into a young reader’s story. I’m glad I read the novel, but I won’t be continuing the series. Instead, I’m even more excited to watch the Eli Roth film as I have a feeling this will be an instance where I enjoy the film more than the book. Still, for the $2 I ended up paying, and the short, four-hour runtime, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a worthwhile, if forgettable, read.


Branden Chowen
Editor-in-Chief at Cinefessions
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn't until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor's and master's degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.