Review – A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay


A Head Full of Ghosts

By Paul Tremblay

SummaryThe 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 believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. 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.

Source: I purchased a paperback

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Let me start by saying I bought this book solely because of the blurb on the front by Stephen King. “A Head Full of Ghosts scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare.” My expectations were high and the synopsis pulled me in almost as much as the Stephen King blurb.

A Head Full of Ghosts was really good and it is horror done well. It was obvious that the author understands horror as a genre, so in many ways it’s a brilliant novel that is a horror novel while also addressing aspects and tropes used in other horror novels and movies. It will be a book that will linger with me for quite some time. 

The book was about the Barrett family. Marjorie Barrett, a teen, began displaying signs of mental illness. John, the father, was a deeply religious man and Sarah, the mother, was outspoken in her doubt. The family dynamics were quite strained with the loss of John’s job and no new prospects lined up. Somehow, the family ended up participating in a TV show called The Possession and tragedy ensued. The book was from the point of view of Merry Barrett, Marjorie’s younger sister, fifteen years after the tragedy.

I hate to give too much away with the plot, but it contained some twists, turns, mysterious events, and intrigue.

I think the way the book was laid out had a lot to do with setting the tone. It added to the suspense and the book had scenes that sort of slowed down so we could get a good look at the parts that weren’t right, adding to the general creepy feeling. Merry was a wonderful narrator because she was a child and there was so much that frightened her and much that she didn’t understand. The crumbling family dynamic was also a major part of the strain everyone was feeling that left each moment feeling like a crack in the glass. 

I highly recommend the book if you enjoy horror. On the surface, it may seem like yet another type of exorcism story, but that’s not at all what it’s really about and it delved deep into other aspects of horror and the family. I like that the book contained excerpts from a blog that dissecting the tv show and acknowledged the existence of things like The Exorcist, which allowed the book to explore it’s own plot a little bit more. A Head Full of Ghosts was brilliant and it was horror as horror should be. I felt my stomach drop as the book ended. I don’t know if it scared the hell out of me, but it was very good.

Star 5


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