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Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Head Full Of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Whew!  This was such an odd book.  Truly.  A Head Full Of Ghosts was written by Paul Tremblay, an author that I have not read in the past.  It's billed as a melding between psychological thriller and horror novel.  I'd say that fits pretty well.  I've also seen Mark Z. Danielewski's House Of Leaves mentioned, as well as Shirley Jackson's books.  Have you read either of those authors?  I tried to read House Of Leaves at one point, but stalled.  I think I've read a Shirley Jackson book, but can't remember which or maybe I'm just remembering watching a movie based on one of her books.  So, do you like horror stories?  Or horror movies?  I like some of them, but not all.  I like Stephen King's early books, and I remember watching The Exorcist and The Omen and other scary movies of that era.  This book took me back to that type of storytelling.

The Barrett family is going through hard times.  The father, John, has been out of work for over a year.  The mother, Sarah, works as a bank teller, but can't really make enough to pay all the expenses.  There are two daughters, 14-year-old Marjorie and 8-year-old Merry.  Marjorie becomes ill with some pretty strange symptoms.  She might be experiencing mental illness, as she tells her little sister about the 'voices' in her head.  Her parents take her to a psychiatrist, but her symptoms worsen.  John Barrett turns to his church for help and shares his fears with a priest.  As Marjorie continues to fall further and further into a type of madness, the priest suggests that she might be possessed.  At this point, you're probably going....right....shades of Regan and The Exorcist.

As John and finally, Sarah, buy into the whole 'need for an exorcism' proposition, a TV production company is contacted and a reality show proposed and actually filmed showing the family and their trials and tribulations.  A sort of 'Life With A Mad Or Maybe Possessed Girl' scenario.  Sadly, people would likely watch such a thing and, who knows, maybe it actually exists or something like it.  Meanwhile, little Merry is watching everything and trying to sort out a normal life with soccer and her Richard Scarry book and cartwheels.  Eventually, the show is filmed, terror ensues and truly awful incidents occur.

Fifteen years later, a writer meets with 23-year-old Merry Barrett to ask her what she remembers about that part of her childhood.  What was it like to be in the midst of a family disintegrating to bits?  What does she recall about the filming, her sister's mental illness, her parents' stress?  And Merry tells her.  As I said at the beginning, it's an odd, odd tale.  Paul Tremblay takes us back to the past and then relates more of Merry's interview.  Interspersed are a series of blog posts about the TV show, The Possession, with an analysis of what was shown.  And then the end comes and it's disturbing and a bit ambivalent.  I know what I think, but there's a little question.

I liked this book, mostly.  It was disturbing, certainly.  It was hard to tell who was relating truth and who was not - all the way through.  The little girl, Merry, was very vivid and lively and kind of exhausting to read about.  She bounced through the whole book, pestering her parents, her sister, and the film crew.  Marjorie was creepy in some ways, but a lot of her scenes seemed a little cliched - like right from old horror films.  Otherwise, she didn't seem all that different from a 'normally' disturbed and 'should be hospitalized' teen.  If that makes sense.  I did not like the parents much, either of them.  And what do I think about the possession?  Well, I'll leave that up to you if you read it.

I'd be interested enough to try another book by this author.  However, I now feel the need to get back to my usual lovely murders and crime solving - you know, murders for profit or revenge or a good old serial killer.  Something that has a definite solution and evidence.  No more exorcisms for me for a while.

32 comments:

  1. I agree this was an odd book, Kay. Psychological thriller with horror element... I don't think I've read many books like this but it was an interesting one, full of intrigue and mystery in a sense that I don't know if it was true evil or something else. It was this part that drove me to flipping the pages.

    Like you, I'm interested to try out another book by this author but not at this time.

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    1. I agree, Melody. It was hard to know where the author was going - true mental illness or something in the supernatural realm. And then there was the ending. Which I won't talk about, of course, but.....

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  2. Hmmm. I'm interested, but it really does sound strange. Sometimes books engage our interest without our being able to decide exactly what we think about it. I read The Children's Home by Lambert recently and when I finished, I still wasn't sure whether or not I liked it, but it made a strong impression.

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    1. It was strange, but also absorbing. I could totally imagine a TV show about something like this. After all, those ghost shows abound.

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  3. That would be a no. I like a good "cozy" ghost story. I do not like horror i.e . The Exorcist, The Shining, Poltergeist. Those are the three movies I could have gone thru life without seeing.

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    1. Ha! Gayle, you made me laugh. Yes, I could see you more in the 'Ghost and Mrs. Muir' category, not The Shining.

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    1. Sheila, that's how the teenage girl described what went on in her head - a head full of ghosts.

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  5. Hmm... it does sound intriguing, and I like what I assume is a deliberate tip of the hat to Shirley Jackson, whose own 'Merricat' character is one of the great literary creations (in We Have Always Lived in the Castle). Can't see any real connections between the stories though, other than the name. And I do love an ambiguous ending in horror... I am sorely tempted...

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    1. The ending was interesting...and I can't say anything else. ;-)

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  6. I've read some Shirley Jackson. I like her writing. Yeah, I think horror-suspense is fine in moderation, but I prefer crime-solving/psychological thrillers too. This book is on my TBR list though!

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    1. I like these OK, on occasion. I wouldn't be able to deal with them all the time. Like I said - a nice, normal, serial killer for me.

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  7. I like Shirley Jackson, but The Exorcist, not too much, though I read the book and saw the movie years and years ago. I no longer gravitate towards those kind of reads, but glad you had fun with it and got to try out a new author and a different type of story. Probably not for me at this time.

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    1. If you managed The Exorcist, you could manage this, Rita. Thinking about it, I wonder how The Exorcist would do now. People are so much more blase' about things. Remember the uproar? People running out of the theaters and throwing up while watching it. Crazy!

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  8. Good on you for trying something a little different and 'enjoying' it. I'm not really into horror but as you know I love the psychological half of this meld.

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    1. That was the thing, Cleo. Was it horror or was it psychological? I'll never tell. LOL

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  9. It sounds interesting. I can understand where the young Merry would be exhausting to read about. Might just have to check it out.

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    1. Try it, you might like it! LOL

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  10. I've enjoyed a couple of Shirley Jackson's novels, but House of Leaves sounded too weird for me... you've made me curious about this one!

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    1. I know - wasn't House Of Leaves odd? I checked it out of the library when I worked there and that whole reading around the edges of the pages in in circles. So strange.

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  11. I'm not sure about this one. Parts sound intriguing and parts sound just a little to different for me. I read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and really enjoyed it but if you read it don't expect it to be a horror story. It's eerie and kind of creepy but I wouldn't say it's a horror story and I think it disappoints a lot of readers who go in expecting that.

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    1. Yes, I can see how it would be a disappointment to some if they were expecting Stephen King or something like that. I'm pretty sure that I've just seen movies made from Shirley Jackson's books. Should probably read one.

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  12. The more I read about this book the more interested I am in giving it a try. I don't usually gravitate toward psychological or horror novels, but the promise of a somewhat ambiguous ending is right up my alley.

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    1. It was definitely different. If you read it, I'd be interested in hearing what you think about the ending.

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  13. Well, I'm intrigued by this one! I think it'd be a perfect Fall read. I tend to prefer crime rather and don't really read horror but every once in a while I'm up for it!

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    1. This would indeed be a good fall read. And that's the thing with this book - horror or psychological issues? The reader has to decide. :-)

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  14. Like you, Kay, I like some horror, but not all. I am more likely to enjoy a psychological suspense type horror novel than one that is gory and graphic. I believe I have a copy of this one somewhere, but keep putting it off. Your comment to Iliana definitely appeals to me, about the reader having to decide just what the issues are--horror or psychological.

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    1. That how I saw it, Wendy. And what I meant when I said it was ambiguous. It's a strange little book. But I liked it.

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