A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay: Review

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay: Review

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay :: Outlandish Lit's Horror Book Review
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
Publisher: William Morrow. June 2015.
Pages: 286
Genre: Horror
Source: Publisher



The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents' despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie's descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts' plight. With John, Marjorie's father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie's younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface--and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.- Goodreads

I've talked before about having trouble finding books that actually scare me. Despite loving horror movies, I had come to avoid horror novels for the most part, for fear of being disappointed. I had put off reading A Head Full of Ghosts for a long time, and I hate that I didn't read it immediately when I got it.

Apart from it being horrifying, it's a combination of horror AND reality TV. Yes, you read that correctly. Never before has a book been more perfect for me, combining my two true loves. The tale is told by Merry in retrospect as she speaks to a writer interested in her story 15 years later. After young teen Marjorie starts acting a little bit kooky/possessed, the parents send her to doctors and psychologists to no avail. The unemployed father gets more and more religious and begins to insist on Marjorie seeing a Catholic priest who wants to give her an exorcism. As money runs out from all the doctors, the family is left with no choice but to go the exorcism route and monetize it by agreeing to be a part of a new reality show called The Posession.

This is all told from Merry's childish point of view, because she was young when this all went down. And Merry saw the most of the horrifying, often demonic things Marjorie did and said. At the beginning of each new "Part," we read a blog post by somebody analyzing the the show's episodes, pointing out allusions to other horror movies/books, and identifying broader themes in it as a piece of media. This is all delightfully meta and a fascinating look at the horror we consume, and it just gets better as the book goes along.

I watched the blinking red of the screen and then looked over at the blanket-covered house. In the LED white light the blue blanket looked like it was the same white color as the cardboard house... I stared at or into the blanket, trying to see the blue that I knew was there but wasn't seeing, and then the blanket was sucked inside the house through the shutters of the front window, as though that window was a ravenous black hole.

It's hard to say much more without spoiling the book. It gets super intense and makes you question everything. You never quite know what to expect next from it. Or, you think you know, but you're wrong and you're completely delighted by where it ends up going. Is Marjorie struggling with mental illness or is something more sinister afoot? There are all sorts of psychological twists and turns that will make it a huge struggle to put down this book once you start. An exorcism tale that's highly self aware, modern, and incredibly clever, A Head Full of Ghosts will scare the pants off you and give you a whole new appreciation for the horror genre itself.

I sneak into your room when you are asleep, Merry-monkey. I've been doing it for weeks now, since the end of summer. You're so pretty when you're asleep. Last night, I pinched your nose shut until you opened your little mouth and gasped...




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