A Head Full of Ghosts

Paul Tremblay
A Head Full of Ghosts Cover

A Head Full of Ghosts


Anyone setting out to write a tale of demonic possession is stuck working with a limited and familiar playbook. William Peter Blatty'sThe Exorcist and the William Friedkin film adapted from it constitute the canon. The steady stream of books and films that have followed all monkey around with the same motifs, perhaps bringing some novelty to the set up and the specifics of the gore effects. Here comes the vomit. Let the obscenities fly. Provoke gasps with the sacrilege. But in the end, patriarchy, embodied in the church, will prevail.

Paul Tremblay chooses to play some of the standard demonic motifs for all they worth, and others he manages to twist into new shapes. Yes, the victim is a pubescent girl, the family is conflicted about religion, and they are in trouble in other ways clearly not related to Satan or his minions. Psychiatrists haven't helped, so Dad, in a rebirth of his Catholic faith, brings in the priests.

And the cameras.

The family is going broke and they talk themselves into allowing their plight and the exorcism to become a reality TV show. No, I didn't buy it either, but Tremblay pulls it off by not focusing on the decision making, but jumping right into life with the crew, who range from the nice guy writer (surprise, reality shows have writers), and a predictable ass of a director. It's a bizarre atmosphere in which the family must cope with its disintegration while the cameras roll.

The eight-year-old younger sister provides the focus for the narrative. She is, at some time that must be around 2025, talking to a writer who is doing yet another book on the now fifteen-year-old event. Meredith, who goes by Merry, also blogs about horror films under a pseudonym for theFangoria website. Her postings form part of Tremblay's text; and, as you can imagine, they are thorough and insightful. The bulk of the novel involves her recreation of the events, bringing her adult sensibility to her childhood experiences.

A Head Full of Ghosts is well paced, at times unnerving, and rings true as both an account of a very smart child's experience of dreadful happenings and a vision of the media circus such a project would produce. You know, from early on, that the novel is building to the exorcism scene, and it does not disappoint. But Tremblay earns his place in the roster of contemporary possession tales by saving the best - or I guess, technically speaking, the worst - till last.