Paul Tremblay's newest thriller, A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS, promises the reader a possession story for the 21st century. What we get is a thoroughly engrossing and often disturbing commentary that pits supernatural evil against human evil; a twist on the classic exorcism story that will deviate from your expectations, but will leave the open-minded reader totally engaged. I devoured this book, and have continued to think about it ever since turning the last page.
Set in New England, A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS tells the story of fourteen year old Marjorie Barrett, the older of the two Barrett daughters, who begins to display symptoms of schizophrenia. This story is told primarily from the viewpoint of the younger sister, Merry, and the reader watches through a child's eyes as Marjorie's behavior becomes increasingly paranoid, disturbing, and violent. A collision of the family's increasingly desperate financial situation, traditional medicine's inability to curb Marjorie's bizarre behavior, and the Barrett father's increasingly devout Catholic faith result in a consensus: Marjorie is possessed by a demon, and the Barrett family will become the subject of a reality TV show, The Possession, which will document the family's attempt to exorcise the demon from Marjorie. With crews filming, the family's descent into madness becomes the stuff of urban legend, and the reader is privy to an adult Merry recounting the disturbing events of her childhood.
If you're looking for a classic exorcism story, this will not be the book for you. You will very likely be disappointed by Tremblay's atypical take on a classic horror theme. Rather, if you go into this book looking for a psychological thriller with a supernatural twist, you will quickly be sucked into the madhouse that is the Barrett residence. This is one book that has stuck with me well after I finished reading it, not because it lived up to my expectations, but because it deviated from them and proved itself in a totally different way than I could have predicted.
Tremblay gives his readers a definite dose of the classic demonic possession scenes that us horror fans crave, but the real sucker punch of this book comes at the very end. It's not a dramatic exorcism scene that will give you goosebumps, it's a scene that highlights the unvarnished human capacity for evil. Tremblay crafts a powerful contrast between scenes of supernatural horrors and human ones, and the reader comes to discover that the evil of humanity doesn't need any demons to bring it out—people are bad enough on their own.
I am hesitant to recommend this book only because it does have some graphic and disturbing scenes that might cross the line for some readers. Tread carefully with this one. However, if you're a horror fan like I am, dive right into this read and let me know what you think. I was completely hooked by Tremblay's story of madness and possession, and am totally hoping to see a movie made out of this dark, surprising read.