A Head Full of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay

Sent to me by Titan Books I was captured by the blurb and cover- a creepy cross with tendrils coming out of it? Yes please! Not only that but, the master of horror Stephen King himself is quoted on the front saying “Scared the living hell, and I’m pretty hard to scare.” I couldn’t resist.

The novel consists of present day, the past and blog posts all focusing on Marjorie, Merry’s (the protagonist’s) older sister who they believe to be possessed. Or should I say their father becomes obsessed with the idea after he rediscovers his floundering faith. After convincing his wife that their daughter is possessed he speaks to a priest and before Merry can process the changes in her sister a television crew swoops in to document their journey to exorcism. We see this journey through Merry’s eyes in both present day and the past as she tries to explain to her friend and author, Rachel Neville, the actions of her family. From the beginning Merry feels like a three dimensional character with real problems and issues which helps to ground the reader with the story that follows.

Firstly I want to talk a little bit about the plot and characters and then delve into the writing as that is what I truly think makes this a great book. Merry and Marjorie are close but as Marjorie grows older the sibling relationship they have needs to adapt and change to Marjorie’s adolescent years. The story time they share becomes a harrowing experience for Merry, 8, whose mind isn’t ready to comprehend and deal with the issues and images that Marjorie describes. We know something is wrong. From this point on the novel slowly escalates to harrowing conclusion. The character themselves seem stereotypical in this setting, the unknowing father, the distant mother, the teenager possessed and a younger innocent sibling to witness their downfall. The blog post interjections even comment on this at one point in the portrayal of the parents in the television show and what they represent. Altogether they fill the roles for a horror story including the house they are in although the reader may not even realise it. Again the blog post explains how the house plays a crucial role in the representation of the family and their lives within it, when to us it  may seem like a normal house.

The novel is clever to not give too much away in the blog posts which are at the beginning of each section. They cleverly and subtly provide all of the information you need before reading, including a quick update on previous episodes as well as setting out (albeit briefly) what is to come. We then have the present day where we can really focus on Merry and the person she has become while piecing together what has already happened. As I said before I loved the way this novel has been laid out. It’s so different to the horror book I read just a day before and it drew me in.

We are able to see the story through the many stages of Merry’s life and how she has developed or comments upon the events that have taken place. We are even able to see her analyse her life with cool detachment at times showing the strength of her character.

The one thing I will say negatively is that it wasn’t scary. I didn’t feel the need to turn on a light or put the book down but, the actions that Marjorie commits are shocking. Even then the acts she commits seem to stem from the media around her (which the blog post argues) and when you finally reach the conclusion of the novel you finally understand why. It is Merry however, who commits the most shocking action of them all. It was a twist that was drip fed throughout the novel and I didn’t pick up on it, brilliantly written.

All in all I wouldn’t a horror or scary but it lies somewhere in that middle ground; teetering on the edge of horror, thriller, and gore. It is a novel I would highly recommend not only because of the plot but because of the way it twists with your mind.

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