A Head Full of Ghosts is a gift for the horror fan, for its compelling story with a well-crafted meta-perspective.
A Head Full of Ghosts is a psychological occult horror story about a troubled family and a possible possession. It is told in an unconventional way with an intriguing structure. The story itself is a great horror story about a so-called possession, a documentary film crew who wants to record it on film and surreal events, but it also refers to many other horror stories, books and films. It’s a horror book full of ghosts and Easter Eggs about horror itself.
Its meta-perspective is shown in these references but also in the storytelling itself, while it is told from the perspective of one of the family members, and her analyses about the events. All these elements create a creepy, terrifying, but also smart and witty well-crafted story that has a very disturbing ending. For all the horror fans out there, this book is an absolute joy to read, but the structure will also speak to general book lovers.
It’s been 15 years since the terrible events with the Barrett family have occurred. Merry the youngest daughter returns to her family home with writer Rachel to tell her story about the so-called possession of her older sister Marjorie of 14. Marjorie showed strange mental health problems which couldn’t be explained by regular doctors, so they called on Father Wanderly to help them. Due to money problems they also decided to bring in a film crew to record everything for the tv show ‘The Possession.’
While everyone believes that Marjorie is possessed, 8 year old Merry is the only one who doubts her sister for other more sinister reasons. While her father John becomes a religious fanatic, her mother Sarah almost has a nervous breakdown, Marjorie’s behavior is getting stranger and stranger.
Why you should read it
What’s so special about this book is the storytelling and structure itself, that is so well-crafted that it takes a somewhat standard horror story to a next level. The storytelling is all about how it is told and from which point of view, which makes it interesting. The story is all about the so-called possession of Marjorie. But it’s all about perspective as well.
It is told to the reader in different ways, although mostly through just one perspective, that of Merry. Merry tells her story to Rachel, who wants to write a book about the whole thing, about the possession and the eventual exorcism and what went wrong.
But we also learn more about the events through the eyes of 8 year old Merry, the way she looks at the events from a child’s perspective, which makes it different and scary at the same time. She has been through very traumatic events that has left its mark on her, that hasn’t diminished 15 years later. Maybe that’s the true horror of the story.
The other perspective is that of The Final Girl who writes about the tv show ‘The Possession’ on her blog. Karen Brissette, doesn’t believe that Marjorie was really possessed and thinks it was all a hoax. Her knowledge about the show and the family extends to research about possession and about horror fiction, films and books. This blog is written in a different style, it’s smart, witty and with a lot of insightful (cynical) commentary about them and horror and the supernatural. It is a very fresh take on horror fiction and how it is written, shown or told. It’s fun, but you might also learn something and maybe are able to add more titles to your to-read or to-watch list.
In this way the story is also told through the film scenes shot by the film crew. This perspective might be a more objective perspective, while the story of both 23 and 8 year old Merry are very subjective and therefore unreliable making her an unreliable narrator.
Nevertheless, it has a strong functional purpose, which is a part of the underlying mystery about whether Marjorie was really possessed or not. It’s very entertaining to read how Karen describes and explains how the audience is being manipulated by means of editing or perspective, making it not an objective story at all. Although Karen might not be all too objective herself and interprets scenes with her own input.
While your are watching or reading for that matter, you are being manipulated, directed to a certain point of view about how the events unfolded. That’s the smart part of the story and will lead to a shocking ending, that you didn’t see coming.
The story is told in a very smart way, manipulating you, entertaining you, making you wonder what really happened, almost turning the horror story into a mystery.
Although this is the main focus of the book, which makes it an enthralling and intriguing read, the horror exist also in a very disturbing and surreal way. The relationship between Merry and Marjorie is in the least deranged, due to Marjorie’s illness or possession, but it goes much further than that. This leads to a few very frightening and scary scenes on a highly visceral level. It’s not the psychical horror, but the psychological horror and the weirdness and the elusiveness of it all that’s very eerie.
The book has a great ending, and it would be wise not to know anything about it. This book is an experience you have to go through just like Merry did, to understand her and the horrifyingly events she went through.
My favorite part
I won’t spoil anything for you, so I can’t say much. The structure is so original and fresh as is its meta-perspective. Both are cause for a highly creative horror story that will speak to the imagination. There are lots of scenes that are so elusive and strange, making it surreal that it’s hard to distinguish between reality and what’s in a child’s mind. The playhouse with the branches and vines is a great example that was a very compelling scene. It’s an example about what truth and reality might or might not be.
I loved all the references too, and the more you have watched or read the more it will appeal to you and it will integrate into the story. But it’s not mandatory to have watched or read all these horror stories to understand or follow the story. It’s just a bonus feature that makes it all the more entertaining.
A favorite quote
“There’s nothing wrong with me, Merry. Only my bones want to grow through my skin like the growing things and pierce the world.”
Scare factor: ★★★☆☆
Surreal factor: ★★☆☆☆
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Entertainment factor: ★★★★★
A Head Full of Ghosts is written by Paul Tremblay and first published by William Morrow Paperbacks/HarperCollins Publishers in 2015. It consists of 336 pages.