A Head Full of Ghosts

Paul Tremblay
A Head Full of Ghosts Cover

A Head Full of Ghosts


I "read" A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay for the 2016 Worldswithoutend.com 12 for 12 reading challenge, in which a reader attempts to read 12 award winning genre books in 12 months. A Head Full of Ghosts was the 2015 Stoker Award Winner. I went into this novel with almost no information. I only knew it was a horror novel and what was on the book jacket. This book ended up being so much less and more than I expected.

The basic story was about your typical American family, the Barrets, Mom, Dad and 2 kids, older daughter Marjorie, and younger daughter Merry. The book is told from the viewpoint of an adult Merry, who is writing a book based on the events from 15 years in the past. At the start of the book the Barrets are in the bit of a slump, to say the least. The father, John was laid off and has not worked in a year. The family has to rely on the mothers, income from her job at a bank. To add to the financial burden, the oldest daughter, Marjorie starts behaving in an increasingly erratic behavior.

It was completely horrific to watch Marjorie's decent into deeper and deeper madness, that has all the earmarks of schizophrenia. But the Father, who has renewed his faith in the catholic church, claims that she is possessed. Add to this confusion, Marjorie's own late night confessions to her sister that she is not sick or possessed but is faking the entire illness.

The reader is left with the uncomfortable feeling of never being on solid ground as to where this story is going, along with the addition of the family being paid to participate in a reality based TV program called The Possession where a priest is brought in to try and drive the demons from Marjorie. I was never sure if Marjorie was really possessed or even if she was really mentally ill. As can be expected, things go absolutely wrong.

Because the story is told from the viewpoint of an adult remembering events from when they were 10 years old, there is always an element of did this memory really happen the way it was remembered. Add to this the fact that as a ten-year-old participant in this entire episode, Merry is kept in the dark throughout most of the story. We the reader are forced to live in a world of 10-year-old logic, which is tenuous at the best of times. This only adds to the confusion of what is really going on in the Barrets house.

And then Mr. Tremblay throws one hell of a mind bending, head twisting, WTF, ending on an already unsettling story.

If the reader is looking for a head-spinning, vomit spewing exorcist rip off, they will be very much disappointed. There is a bit of vomit, which was disgusting, and there were some seizures that could have been a bit head spinning, but in general, the horror of this novel is in watching a family crumble under an economic and medical disaster. In a 2015 Forbes survey, 56% of Americans said they had less than $1,000 in their checking and savings account combined. This means the majority of Americans are only one financial event from disaster. That in itself is a horrifying thought.