Whoever said two books are better than one probably meant well. Then someone came up with tête-bêche and quite possibly blew the mind of that original person.
Let’s take a step back, first. To begin, we couldn’t think of a better time to highlight this book, what with it being the 40th anniversary of The House with a Clock in its Walls, the 20th anniversary of The Ghost in the Mirror, and an exciting and eventful eleven years since the two were joined at the hip (nay, spine) and sold as one. Yes, back in 2002 Puffin released a combined edition of House and Ghost as a flip-book – or technically, tête-bêche.
Tête-bêche (French for head-to-tail) is a curious mash-up where two stories are printed together, but upside down and back-to-back. In short, as we said so eloquently when this book was initially released, once you’re finished reading House you can turn it over, flip it around, and read Ghost or, once you’ve finished reading Ghost you can turn it over, flip it around and…we think you still get the idea. Vicy versy, as someone once said.
This tête-bêche format dates back to the 19th Century but, as Bellairsia book collecting contributor Russ Bernard reminds us, probably received its greatest fame when Ace Books began publishing its Ace Doubles from the early 1950s into the mid-1970s. A 2011 article from the Guardian.uk notes there was a minor resurgence in the 1990s and that at the time of the article both a British and American publisher were making a go of reviving the format again. We wouldn't put it past John reading some of these Ace Doubles in his youth and that years later would have been tickled at some of his books revised into this format.
That said we wonder what prompted this book to surface a decade ago. Was that the style of the time or just a flippant fad? Did Puffin have other tête-bêche titles or was this something someone tried for grins? We tried to find other flip-over books from the time period but constantly ended up with pastry cookbooks and thick volumes on hiring and firing practices. Maybe that ought to tell us something.
Another question: why these two stories? Arguably you could get more bang (or book) for your buck by purchasing a three-book compilation over this two-book compilation. The Best of John Bellairs contains House and its two follow-ups, The Figure in the Shadows and The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring – why not make a second best of with the three novels Strickland completed (Ghost, The Vengeance of the Witch-finder, and The Doom of the Haunted Opera)? Or why not Figure and Ghost – see where Mrs. Zimmermann loses her powers and how she regains them. Or Letter and Ghost – see Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmermann on two of their strangest vacations ever. Or Ghost and Vengeance – two separate stories taking place simultaneously? Or...? Chances are it was simply a way to tie in John’s popular origin story (House) with the first new Barnavelt adventure (Ghost) in over fifteen years.
The artwork for the book is the same used for normal-bound Puffin releases, it being created by Bart Goldman, and the layout design is what Puffin seemed to be using around this time period.
Regardless we’d love to see this one be available as an electronic book. Think about it. April fools, indeed.