A Head full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

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A Head full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

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Category: Horror
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Liz Green
Reviewed by Liz Green
Summary: A clever, scary, thought-provoking horror story.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: September 2016
Publisher: Titan Books
ISBN: 978-1785653674

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I don't normally go in for horror stories, mainly because I usually can't take them seriously enough to suspend disbelief. But A Head full of Ghosts appealed to me, somehow - perhaps I was just curious to read the novel that scared the living hell out of Stephen King. Or maybe I was interested to see how Paul Tremblay dealt with the schizophrenic behaviour of his teenage protagonist. And I was certainly intrigued by the highly original storyline described in the blurb: when Marjorie, a teenage girl, starts behaving erratically, her family can't cope and call in the local priest and, ultimately, a TV crew who start to film a reality show about exorcisms.

So was the novel scary? I must say that I didn't read this book at bedtime. Only downstairs, with the lights on. It was partly the screaming, the erratic behaviour, the plants coming up through the cellar, etc., which made me want to look over my shoulder. But, for me, the real horror was the way a distressed and dysfunctional family can be persuaded to appear in a reality TV show and have their lives turned inside out by an exorcism screened live on television. The standard horror fare may at times have lacked credibility for a sceptic like me, but the way the media invades and destroys people's lives is all too real.

The main narrative is provided by Marjorie's younger sister Merry, now an adult, who describes the events of her childhood to a writer researching a new book. Interspersed with this narrative is a present-day blog account that looks back at the reality TV show - presumably a way for Tremblay to offer independent corroboration of the TV show's content, counteracting the inaccuracies in Merry's account (she's an unreliable narrator at best and, even after you've turned the last page, you're still not really sure what's going on in her head). The blog was a slightly off note - it felt unnecessary, and written a bit too self-consciously, somehow, for my liking.

Although A Head Full of Ghosts didn't convert me to horror as a genre, I must say that it is extremely well-written, and the relationship between the two sisters is imaginatively and cleverly portrayed. On top of that, I'd never have guessed the ending in a million years - always a bonus. At times, though, I did find the novel a bit, well, uninteresting, and hard to maintain my attention for over 300 pages. But if you're a fan of the horror genre, I can see that this book would suit you very well indeed. Paul Tremblay has clearly had great fun referencing the canon of horror literature and film. Obviously the Exorcist is high up there but there are also many nods to lesser-known works and, at the end of the novel, Tremblay actually provides a chapter-by-chapter guide to his references and inspirations.

And the novel does make you think. Personally, I like to have answers, a scientific rationale (and yes, I realise that I may be missing the point a little). And there may be a scientific explanation for Marjorie's behaviour, but what if there isn't? Paul Tremblay cleverly gives his readers the facts, but leaves us to draw our own conclusions. There are several possibilities with this story (the two most obvious: Marjorie is suffering a serious mental illness versus Marjorie is possessed). Throwing an unreliable narrator into the mix is a clever move, too. Is Merry, the younger sister, actually as innocent as she implies?

So the book will leave you wondering, and that can never be a bad thing. Just remember to keep the light on.

If you like to be scared silly, try The Woman in Black by Susan Hill or Tales from the Dead of Night: Thirteen Classic Ghost Stories by Cecily Gayford (editor).

Buy A Head full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Head full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay at Amazon.co.uk

Buy A Head full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Head full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay at Amazon.com.


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