Book Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

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Title: A Head Full of Ghosts

Author: Paul Tremblay

Release date: June 2, 2015

** 2015 Winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel **

Look, I know a lot of you think I’m only reading Paul Tremblay so I can keep the upper hand over George aka Book Monster aka Sshh_ImReading on Twitter in our ongoing battle of who is a bigger super fan. George for Tremblay – Steve for Andrew Pyper. I think at this point, I hold the upper hand (Sorry, George!) because I’ve now read two of Paul’s releases, the first being the excellent ‘The Cabin At the End of the World’ and now this one – and George will have to correct me here… but I don’t think he’s read a single Pyper release yet. Wow. I know.

But, the truth is – ‘The Cabin…’ was outstanding and George suggested my next Tremblay book should be ‘A Head Full of Ghosts,’ so here we are.

Now, this book was released back in 2015 and won a number of awards and was nominated for a number of awards. This is a book that even if you’ve not read it, you’ve heard of it. Saying all of that – I still had no idea what to expect going in.

What I liked: ‘A Head Full of Ghosts’ follows a family as their daughter, Marjorie either becomes possessed or has a psychotic breakdown. Much like ‘Come Closer’ by Sara Gran, that aspect will be wholly left in the hands of the reader. Depending on how you read the novel and how you want to perceive what’s happening, you’ll fall into one of those two categories and for that Tremblay really did craft a spellbinding gem.

I loved the ambiguity of what is actually happening to Marjorie. The book itself follows Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry and how she’s coping with the incident 15 years later. We get bits and pieces through an informative blog, Merry herself sharing the events, as well as through bits and spurts of what Merry filmed herself. The ‘possession’ was chronicled in a TV show that was part fiction/part dramatization called aptly ‘The Possession’ and what I absolutely adored was how Tremblay also adds in the real world aspects. What occurs when the show begins to air and the community and neighbors see what’s happening behind the closed doors of the house. This was a fascinating aspect and one that I’ve not come across too much in other releases.

There are some truly frightening moments in this, which I think really increased the reader’s experience, no matter which side of the fence you fell on.

Lastly – the ending moments of the show, the aftermath (which we find out in broken down detail in the blog) and the final interview between Merry and Rachel, the woman writing a retrospective on the events, was stunning and will rock even the hardest of readers.

I actually spent a lot of the first 25% wondering if Marjorie herself didn’t exist and this was purely a multiple personality type story, but once I got off that train and accepted her existence (I know, I know), the puzzle pieces Paul gave to us, one piece at a time, was superb.

What I didn’t like: I did find the dad’s abrupt acceptance of religion a bit jarring. It felt like just suddenly he started to pray and wanted a priest to be involved. Maybe I missed something, but that felt like it was a quick character turn.

Also, I hated how poorly Merry was treated throughout. It was necessary to the story but I felt so bad for this character – which was exactly what Tremblay wanted.

Lastly, and this is incredibly minor, but two real life authors are mentioned as fictional characters, with one of those authors books being named as a movie, and that was a bit off for me. It took me a bit out of this “fictional” world. Very minor and I chuckled at it, but I found it strange none-the-less.

Why you should buy this: One incredibly spot on thing that Tremblay did was use the blog within the book to actually compare the book to previous possession/exorcism based novels, which allowed for any similarities to actually be used as part of the confusion around the possessed versus psychotic story line. It was genius. Where you may be a bit put off if you purely read this and thought it was too much based around ‘The Exorcist,’ well, it wasn’t and here’s why. Genius.

Overall, this book was incredibly creepy and unsettling in every aspect. The ending left me with a hole and an ache in my heart with how Merry was used and manipulated. This was such a great character study on trauma and even PTSD, but it wasn’t until I was finished that I fully understood that.

Tremblay delivers a stunning look at a family falling apart in ‘A Head Full of Ghosts.’ I’m certainly glad to have read this and I’m looking forward to diving into ‘Disappearance at Devil’s Rock’ next.

5/5

PS – George (insert tongue sticking out emoji here!). I’m up 2-0!

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