Name: A Head Full of Ghosts
Author: Paul Tremblay
Number of Pages: 400 (Kindle edition)
Published: September 27th 2016 by Titan Books (first published June 2nd 2015)
Genre: Thriller, Horror
The lives of the Barretts, a 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 halt 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, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show.
A Head Full of Ghosts centres around the Barrett family – sisters Marjorie and Merry (Meredith), and their parents – and events of years ago.
The story is told as a grown up Merry looks back on events during her childhood involving her sister Marjorie’s possible illness/possession and their ill-fated involvement with a reality tv show documenting said events called The Possession.
There are also blog entries by horror fan Karen, who has watched The Possession and is writing a series of articles based around the show and the episodes.
The way the story is told makes for much speculation as a reader. Merry relates events of the past to a woman intending to write a book about the family, but she openly states that she sometimes wonders about things she remembers, and whether they really are memories, or whether they’ve been affected by things she’s seen, read and heard in the years since the event. The gap between being eight and twenty-something also makes it more grey than clear-cut, and as various discrepancies begin to appear between the narratives, it makes you wonder even more exactly what happened and what is true.
The relationship between the young Merry and her older sister Marjorie starts out in such a way that it’s hard not to be drawn in – two sisters, loving books and making their owns stories and pictures, and enjoying growing up together. The tale becomes gradually creepier, and it all starts early on in the way these shared creations take on a slightly more sinister air before Marjorie’s behaviour starts to become more unnerving. The speculation as to whether Marjorie is ill, or making it all up, or genuinely possessed keeps you thinking.
Merry is great as a central character – she’s likeable, creative, and engaging. In the midst of the ensuing chaos once the tv crew arrives, and as Marjorie’s situation becomes more serious, you just want both of the sisters to come through it all okay.
The house itself almost becomes a character, with it’s black and white staircase, disorienting layout and Merry’s cardboard house in her bedroom and the sunroom that later becomes the diary room for the reality show. It’s quite atmospheric at times.
The story has a gradually increasing creepiness, rather like the ‘growing things’ that feature in one of Marjorie’s slightly darker stories. There’s definitely something wrong, and the hints that there is something coming makes you keep turning the pages despite a fairly good idea that it’s not going to be something good.
The book delivers in the way of twists as well, which makes it quite hard to talk about at length because the last thing I want to do it spoil it for anyone. I’ll just end by saying I ended up pretty engrossed in the tragic tale of the Barrett family.