Vandriel: Creepy Cool

Caroline Vandriel’s monthly book review

A few weeks ago, while online, I happened upon a movie trailer for “The House with a Clock in its Walls”. While I was intrigued by the casting (Jack Black and Cate Blanchette), I was thrown by the visual styling of it. The music track, title lettering, and overall tone was reminiscent of the Harry Potter films, and I assumed it was a knock off, which irked me. Knock offs are rarely as good as their original counterparts, and, to my way of thinking, it’s cheating. I decided to check out the book it was based on, fully anticipating being bored and annoyed. I was wrong.

When I first looked up the John Bellairs book in the library catalogue, I discovered that it had originally been published in 1973, almost a quarter of a century prior to the first Harry Potter novel! Another delight to discover was the illustrations had been drawn by Edward Gorey. If you haven’t had the good fortune (or bad, depending on your perspective on things) of coming across anything by Edward Gorey, you’re in for a treat… sort of. His work, “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” is an alphabet book like no other and not intended for the faint of heart. The 26 letters each depict how a young person met an untimely end. Gorey has been called the Tim Burton of his time and his line drawings reflect that.

“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is typical of a novel in the horror genre for younger readers. The hero, Lewis, has recently lost both his parents and is travelling by bus to meet his Uncle Jonathon, with whom he is going to live. Uncle Jonathon’s house is gothic, both in architecture and atmosphere, and Uncle Jonathon’s neighbour, Mrs. Zimmermann, is a witch. Literally. She is also good friends with Uncle Jonathon, who is a warlock. Lewis must learn witchcraft, combat bullies at school, and find the demon that he himself unearthed while trying to impress the most popular boy in school, Tarby, in the graveyard one night.

One of the themes throughout the book is secrets. Uncle Jonathon mysteriously wanders the house at night. Lewis is too terrified to confess to his uncle what he has done, making everything worse. Tarby keeps secret his absolute terror of the events that took place in the graveyard. It’s one of those situations where the reader is led to believe all sorts of problems could have been averted at the outset, if only everyone had come clean. But no. Lewis’s secret in particular is dragged on for an absurd amount of time, irritatingly so.

The tone of the book is dark, but with a flippancy regarding disaster like that found in Lemony Snicket’s “Series of Unfortunate Events”. Bellairs builds tension throughout the story, while maintaining levity that reassures all will be well in the end. The relationship between Uncle Jonathon and Mrs. Zimmermann is delightful: they are constantly insulting one another, while looking out for each other, like constantly bantering siblings.

Bellairs writes to a junior audience, very much like the style and tone of the early Harry Potter stories. Having now read two novels by Bellairs, I’m looking forward to seeing the film when it comes out in September. It should be creepy-cool.

Just Posted

Lacombe County prepares for cannabis legalization at recent council meeting

Lacombe County Council met for a regular meeting on Oct. 11

Eckville hosts info session for local kid’s programs

The event was held at the Eckville Community Centre from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 18

Peewee Female Wildcats pounce on inaugural season

The all girls team is made up with players from seven different local towns.

Ponoka County fire crews handle second baler fire in 12 hours

Fire crews handled a baler fire just west of Gull Lake

WCPS uses cannabis legislation to fully review drug, alcohol and tobacco policies

Cannabis is not permitted in schools; WCPS focused on providing education and support

Singer k.d. lang receives Alberta’s highest honour

Celebrated singer-songwriter k.d. lang received the Alberta Order of Excellence in Edmonton

Canada Post strikes leaves small shops in the lurch as holidays approach: CFIB

Rotating strikes began in Victoria, Edmonton, Halifax and Windsor

Harry and Meghan travel in different style on Australia tour

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan are on day seven of their 16-day tour of Australia and the South Pacific.

AP Exclusive: Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair, thesis for sale

The online auction features 22 items from Hawking, including his doctoral thesis on the origins of the universe, with the sale scheduled for 31 October and 8 November.

In Khashoggi case: Saudi calls, ‘body double’ after killing

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called the son of Jamal Khashoggi, the kingdom announced early Monday, to express condolences for the death of the journalist killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by officials that allegedly included a member of the royal’s entourage.

Alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur waives right to preliminary hearing

Bruce McArthur, a 67-year-old self-employed landscaper, has been ordered to stand trial on eight counts of first-degree murder.

N.B. village faces backlash after council raises ‘straight flag’

Chipman Mayor Carson Atkinson says the flag met the village council’s criteria because it “recognizes, accepts and respects the rights of individuals under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

B.C. oncologist changing the face of breast cancer treatment

Dr. Juanita Crook, a Kelowna oncologist, has seen 100 per cent success using brachytherapy to treat breast cancer in some patients.

One of Taiwan’s fastest trains derails, killing at least 18

The train was carrying more than 360 people

Most Read