Book Reviews

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (2015) Review

15 years ago, Merry Barrett’s family experienced the unimaginable; her elder sister Marjorie’s potential demonic possession/psychological breakdown. When the combination of ignoring, coping, and doctor’s appointments failed to improve her condition, the Barretts turned to the cross and television producers, who would go on to film a successful show entitled, “The Possession.”

Now, Merry gives her side of the story as an adult and we the readers get a front row spot.

Bits and Fragments:┬áThe author is an obvious fan of horror and pop culture. His references are great and modern and a pleasure for any gore hound to read over. This isn’t what I was expecting when I picked this up- there’s a lot of “everyday life” speak and a decent dose of “happenings.” When the happenings do happen though, they are well crafted and delectable to read. In regards to the conclusion- well? Well? WELL?! Questions left answered and not in a good way. Very complex, complete characters with honest emotions and reactions. These could be real people and that’s both nerve wracking and relieving as a reader.

The Nitty Gritty: It was hard for me to relate, even on a superficial level, with the narrator Merry. We’re both 23 year old females with older sisters, a chaotic family life, and a passion for writing; yet I felt like the voice of Merry was unrealistic. She sounded “too smart” for her own good, too sophisticated when simply telling the readers of her past experiences. She came across more realistic during the blog entry segments but those were laborious to read through, simply because the tone, the lingo, and the manic nature of them were annoying. I wanted to believe in Merry, I wanted to connect with her and feel for a moment her heartache but I didn’t. Perhaps Tremblay had molded her into an adult that had to grow up much too fast, one that lived life manically and thought manically and tried everything they could to not break down; I can see that side of the coin as well. It would have been nice to see a small bit of vulnerability from her. The interview process with Rachel seemed to only skim the surface, to act as a sufficient form of openness.

On a more positive note, the horror aspects really shone through for me. Having an older sister myself, I could easily recall memories of a young, boisterous me irritating and begging my sister to pay attention to me. In the moments of Marjorie’s and Merry’s interactions, I really did feel a sense of dread when things took a turn for the darker and demonic. The contrast of innocent, semi-friendly sisterly play and hostile, unnatural dialogue from the older sister packed a punch and I think that aspect will stick with readers the most. After reading those sections and preparing for bed, I’d stare into the dark corners of the room and picture my sister standing there, with her face hidden by her long tresses and I admittedly got creeped out. Had their been more of a horror focus in A Head Full of Ghosts, Marjorie could have indeed been another literary boogeyman.

Long Story Short (Too Late): Overall, this novel was a unique combination of genres that skillfully and efficiently delivered drama, suspense, and a small scale of emotional stress. I really enjoyed the scarier moments, the moments when you couldn’t stop reading and you didn’t have to try very hard to visualize the mayhem. I also enjoyed the realism of the Barrett family life and the unapologetic albeit imperfect perception of an eight year old Merry.

I wasn’t a fan of the blog entry chapters. They weren’t highly essential to the story in my opinion and I found myself pausing (and maybe even skipping through them) before reading them. I also felt let down by the twist; it felt like a cheap shot you’d get in a horror film franchise. True, it was very saddening and I didn’t (although many readers probably could have) see it coming but because of those blog entries, it lacked luster and impact. The ending didn’t settle well either but that’s the very least of my complaints. I wish this was more of a horror story but alas, it was not. The inside sleeve description sums it up accurately and fairly;

“A chilling domestic drama that blends psychological suspense with a touch of modern horror.”

To purchase A Head Full of Ghosts and support this blog, click the cover.

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