Book Look: A Head Full of Ghosts

In my quest to find great horror novels, I've had a heck of a time finding something that even falls under my definition of the horror genre. I seem to have come across some decent suspense novels, decent dramas, and questionable general fiction - but horror? I decided to take a chance on Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts even though the Amazon reviews had me apprehensive - it seems to be a novel you either love or hate, there's no in between. It seemed up my alley in the terms of dealing with the occult and unreliable narrators, but I couldn't completely shake the bad reviews from my mind.

book cover of A Head Full of GhostsI tried it anyway.

Paul Tremblay has a new fan.

The story centers around Merry Barrett at two very different times in her life: when she is eight-years-old and her family is the focus of a new reality t.v. show documenting her older sister's potential demonic possession, then again at twenty-three when she is being interviewed for her memoir and she finally gets to tell the truth about the events surrounding her family's minor rise to fame and subsequent fall from grace. In the middle of these two stories, we get excerpts from a blog dissecting old footage of the t.v. show - pieces I feel the story could have done without, to be honest with you, but they're so insignificant you could probably skim them and be fine.

I liked Paul's initial presentation of the family: parents struggling to be happy in their marriage, a father who finds religion in order to cope with his own inadequacies and a mother who humors him for the sake of their children. We see the older sister Marjorie begin to unravel through Merry's eyes, and watch as the close sisterly bond is strained and frayed, but never quite breaks in spite of Marjorie's madness or possession, whichever you choose to believe is the case; that's another thing Paul does well, he gives enough proof to fill either column and creates genuine conflict. Is Marjorie really faking it all for the attention and to bring her family together? Is she genuinely possessed, are the flaws and instabilities in her story created by a demon who isn't eager to leave his host?

And why isn't anyone else around to tell their story? Why is Merry the only one being interviewed?

Those last two questions I never really took the time to ask myself until I was closing in on the end, and by that time I almost had the whole story. Paul gives you all of the information you need by the end to tie everything together, all while leaving the question of possession vs teenage drama up to the reader to decide. I love that I didn't genuinely have an answer for what was happening to Marjorie after I finished the book. I love that the parents were painted as two flawed, struggling humans who initially wanted to do what was right for their family. I love that eight-year-old Merry had the voice of a child, not an adult attempting to poorly portray a child.

This novel was so well written it gave me a renewed sense of hope for the genre and a desire to keep reading, to keep searching for great books like this one. It reminded me why I started, and I think that's the most valuable thing of all.

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