A Head Full of Ghosts

Paul Tremblay
A Head Full of Ghosts Cover

A Head Full of Ghosts



This is a novel about an exorcism in an ordinary American family. I finished reading the book a few days ago and thought it was okay. I've been meaning to write a review since and haven't got round to it. Now those few days have passed I can't help but feel my star rating is generous and perhaps I should reconsider it.

The novel recalls the events of several years ago where the fourteen year old daughter of a normal working class family starts to behave in an erratic manner. The family are struggling financially following the husband's redundancy, and the father looks to religion for answers to his problems. The novel is written from the perspective of a younger sibling looking at the events many years later as she has entered adult hood and also through a series of blog posts covering the 'reality show' of the exorcism.

The plus points - the novel is very readable, it flows well and is a quick and easy read. I was never bored as such and the novel held my attention well. I generally wanted to pick it up and read more.

Unfortunately there is a lot wrong with the book. First of all - it isn't scary, chilling or unsettling in anyway whatsoever. There were a few mild hints that something altogether more sinister was going on (the father potentially molesting the children, the inappropriate touching of a priest on the young girl) but the problem was there wasn't too much of anything sinister at all. This book just isn't scary.

How we got from, 'our daughter is having some kind of mental issues' to 'our daughter is possessed and let's film the exorcism as a reality show' is one hell of an implausible leap. It is intended that the reader has to come to their own conclusions as to what is and isn't happening but in the context of the novel the leap is entirely unconvincing.

We're dealing with a lot of confusion in this novel. Is Marjorie suffering from a mental illness, faking it all or genuinely possessed or a combination of a few? Is the Father genuinely turning to religion or is he exploiting his daughter for financial gain. Who got the TV people in - is it the priests? Is it for fame? Promoting religion? Something else? Now all these questions are interesting but I guess I didn't care one way or another. I guess the not subtle message at all is 'look at how reality TV exploits people' and 'what is real and what is fake in reality TV'. There's some messages in there about the unpleasant side of religion and it's also an attack on American society, TV, religion etc. None of this is nuanced or subtle. I felt like I was getting hit over the head with a brick with 'look at all these themes written on it'.

I absolutely hated the blog posts in the novel. They were written in a certain style of overly familiar , exaggerated writing that I can let slide on a blog or a Goodreads review but is positively intolerable in a novel (Duuude!!! That was so scary! OMFG I need some coffee - LIKE NOW! - (you get the idea)). Worse, is that the blog posts are based on a real blogger to imitate her writing style. That's fine, but if you want to pay homage to a blogger you like Mr Tremblay don't inflict it on your wider readership. I hated the blog posts so much - they were so very aware, you know putting all these connections together, understanding all contextual relationships and the canon of exorcism in the media. The posts screamed, 'LOOK HOW CLEVER I AM'. No thanks.

There is a supposedly SHOCKING TWIST towards the end. It's just thrown out there with no emotional impact, it's so nonchalant. When this twist develops it does make you think 'so, who did what again'.

It wasn't all bad. I did feel very sad for the 'possessed' girl who clearly has a number of issues. It's a shame because I'd formed an opinion of what was happening quite early and not enough doubt entered my mind to make me change my view.