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Book Review: A Head Full of Ghosts

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Nicole Tracy | Literary Columnist

“The lives of the Barretts, a normal 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 stop 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. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.
Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface—and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.”
Quite possibly one of the scariest subjects a writer can use in a novel is that of the exorcism. The idea of an innocent human being overcome by a malevolent spirit usually always makes for a riveting story. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay capitalizes on the eerie subject matter and makes for a spine tingling read.
The Barrett family being filmed for a reality TV show while their older daughter, Marjorie, battles possession for the world to see. Author Tremblay successfully weaves a horror story in with modern times. A possession for all the world to see on TV? This story has it.
The story is told from the point of view of the Barretts’ younger daughter, Merry. The story revolves around her recounting of the story of her older sister’s possession which happened fifteen years before. The story is told through her 8 year old eyes, however, leaving what happens in the novel sometimes feeling as if it is leaving the reader in the dark. It truly adds to the unsettled feeling of the entire story.
The story doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the horror genre. As a reader, one will immediately figure out that the story brings to mind The Exorcist. Merry using a video camera and recording candid footage of scary happenings in the house is just like events in the movie Paranormal Activity. This novel, however, takes familiar elements from other stories and weaves it into a work all its own.
The only major problem with the story is the ending, or lack thereof. This book has almost no resolution. The reader is left not knowing if Marjorie really was possessed or merely was pretending to be. It’s left open for interpretation, and for fans of closure in their stories, this might be a bit frustrating.
A Head Full of Ghosts is available at the Howard County Public Library. Copies are limited, so if it is unavailable, ask at the front desk to be put on a waiting list for it.

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