Book Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

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 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.

Song For This Book: The Exorcist Theme
Why? What other song do you use for a book about possession?


Every so often you come across a book that, even though it was weird at times and you weren’t always sure about it, it sticks in your head for days after. And that was this book for me.

I’d originally picked up this book because I was in the mood for some Halloween reads, and possession stories are basically classic when it comes to the horror genre. And it’s always interesting to see how someone is going to vary what happened in The Exorcist and other popular exorcism/possession in their story. This book steps it up one, and not only gives us a new perspective on the whole possession thing, but also gives a great commentary on the horror genre and other possession stories.

The Good Points of A Head Full of Ghosts:

I think the best thing about this book is the fact that it’s narrated by a 23-year-old who experienced all of this as an 8-year-old. Which makes her mildly unreliable (because she had access to the tv show filmed of her family, so had a memory aide), and a fascinating perspective about the whole thing. Add to this that she is such a well developed character, and you’ve got a great start.

The whole schizophrenia/possession debate throughout the book, as well as the presentation of religion and how religion affected this story was absolutely fascinating. There was a lot of potential for this to go so poorly and to be an awful mental health representation, but it was well done. It’s probably not great mental health representation, but it also isn’t very focused on the whole mental health idea (obviously leaning towards the possession side of things), so you can take that how you will.

I loved Merry and Majorie’s relationship throughout the book, and how it changed, adjusted and adapted as the possession and story progressed. Hurray for family relationships in books! (Even messed up ones.)

There is so much commentary on the horror genre and other possession stories, and it is absolutely brilliant. This has the best comment on women in possession stories I have ever seen in my life (spoiler-but-not-really: it’s a comment about how one key sign a women is possessed is that she knows things about possession that the priest would know, because obviously women having that knowledge is a sign of the devil. Even though the character in this story has internet access). As someone who has seen a lot of horror, YES, THANK YOU.

The way that the whole possession story is presented and how Marjorie progressed through the story is well done, and runs along that line that you sometimes question if she really is possessed or if it’s something else or if it’s fake. You guess for a long time, and still aren’t totally sure by the end.

That ending, though. Seriously. Where the hell did that come from? I can’t even comment on it, because I’m still suffering from whiplash from the whole thing.

The Downsides of A Head Full of Ghosts:

When you go into a book about possession, you kind of expect to at least be a little freaked out. And this book isn’t really scary, unless you’ve got a seriously messed up imagination.

This book was a bit slow and a bit random when you start out. A lot of the early stuff ties in later, but the Richard Scarry rants at the beginning seem so out of place when you’re at that point.

The blog posts were fine, as I listened to this as an audiobook, but I feel like reading it would have been annoying as hell. It’s one of those things that sounds okay, but would be frustrating to read.

All in all, I loved this book, and how subtly messed up it was. There was some great commentary and while it wasn’t scary, it was an interesting choice as far as possession stories go. If you like scary stories that don’t actually make you very scared, commentary on the horror genre as a general, or unreliable narrators, you’ll likely enjoy A Head Full of Ghosts!

Find A Head Full of Ghosts on Book Depository

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