A Head Full of Ghosts - Paul Tremblay

Genre: Horror
Synopsis: 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. 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, the family soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie's younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events, 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.


Review: I was disappointed by this book. After reading Paul's previous novel, Disappearance at Devil's Rock, and loving it, I had high, high hopes for this one. So when I say I was disappointed, I don't mean it was bad - it just really wasn't for me. I feel like it's some big meta thing for dedicated horror fans and I'm just not that. I love a good ghost story and even enjoy scary films (if I have someone to watch them with me). I understood most of the pop culture references (and there are a lot) on a surface level, but I just couldn't take anything more from it.

Basically, it overlays our modern awareness of how mentally ill people have traditionally been accused of possession, with the typical ghost story fear that maybe someone actually is possessed, blurred by the presence of TV cameras making a reality show, which allegedly aim to depict reality all while scripting something fake, which itself is overlayed with a blog deconstructing the TV show years later. Still with me? It's not a difficult concept, but it's too many layers. Knowing from the outset that Marjorie is just ill renders all of the possession stuff not even remotely creepy. The mental illness is not creepy, because it's so overridden by the possession stuff. The cameras just make the whole thing surreal, and the blog completely pulled me out of the action. If I want to read snippets of text breaking down scenes and influences in a TV show, I won't read a novel to do it. Too many layers.

Now, the writing, naturally, is fantastic. Absolutely superb. I adored child Merry, her way of thinking is so perfectly childlike, the stories and habits of both sisters as children are just so completely believeable. Marjorie was also a pretty decent character. Everyone else, however, was underdeveloped and again probably lost amongst the layers. The ending was also bizzare and didn't work for me at all. Paul is, without a doubt, a great writer. I just feel like, for me, this particular story did not work, at all. It gets starts for the writing, though.

Rating: 3/5 

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