A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel

Paperback | May 10, 2016

byPaul Tremblay

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A chilling thriller that brilliantly blends psychological suspense and supernatural horror, reminiscent of Stephen King's The Shining, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, and William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist.

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.

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From the Publisher

WINNER OF THE 2015 BRAM STOKER AWARD FOR SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN A NOVELA chilling thriller that brilliantly blends psychological suspense and supernatural horror, reminiscent of Stephen King's The Shining, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, and William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist.The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban...

From the Jacket

“Terrific. . . . Generates a haze of an altogether more serious kind: the pleasurable fog of calculated, perfectly balanced ambiguity.”—New York Times Book ReviewThe 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’ ...

Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 8 × 5.31 × 0.72 inPublished:May 10, 2016Publisher:HarperCollinsLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0062363247

ISBN - 13:9780062363244

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Customer Reviews of A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel


Rated 3 out of 5 by from Just so-so for me Paul Tremblay’s novel A Head Full of Ghosts has been sucking up all the oxygen on the Internet for the past few weeks and even Stephen King said that it scared the “living hell” out of him. As you might imagine, that’s probably pretty hard to do and therefore high praise. The Barrett family are kinda sorta normal in a completely dysfunctional way. Dad, John, has just been made redundant at the job where he’s worked for the last nineteen years. Times are tough and he hasn’t been able to find work since. Mom, Sarah, is tense and cold. Then there are the daughters: fourteen-year-old Marjorie and eight-year-old Meredith or Merry. The story is actually narrated by Merry, aged 23. She is sharing what happened to her family the year she was eight with best-selling author Rachel Neville but she is unsure how to proceed because she doesn’t “know how to explain to her that [her] sister hasn’t aged at all in fifteen-plus years and there never was a before everything happened.” Despite the six year age gap, Marjorie and Merry are close. They share made up stories and have a sister-speak shorthand. When Merry visited Marjorie’s room “she was convinced that [she] was going to grow up exactly like Marjorie, entering her room was like discovering a living, breathing map of [her] future.” Lately, though, Marjorie has begun to act strange. She tells Merry that the posters on her walls “disembodied hands, legs, arms, hair and a pair of eyes” were like that when Marjorie had woken up. She writes Merry a note that tells her: "I sneak into your room when you are asleep, Merry-Monkey. I’ve been doing it for weeks now, since the end of summer. You’re so pretty when you are asleep. Last night, I pinched your nose shut until you opened your mouth and gasped." Merry isn’t the only one concerned about Marjorie. She’s seeing a psychologist and then John decides he needs to get the church involved. That’s how the Barrett family find themselves at the center of a reality television series, The Possession. No one could have predicted how it would all turn out, least of all Merry, but when she agrees to talk to Rachel Neville, the veil of what really happened in the Barrett house is lifted. Or is it? A Head Full of Ghosts is not scary, let’s just get that out of the way. It’s creepy and mind-bending and certainly capitalizes on the whole reality TV phenomenon. But full out pants-wetting scares are in short supply. Truthfully, I am not sure how I feel about this book. I didn’t love it. I found it odd and unsettling, for sure, and neither of those things are bad necessarily, but I wasn’t enthralled. I kept changing my mind about what I thought was really going on – which also isn’t a bad thing. I don’t need my fiction to be tidy. I guess how I feel about A Head Full of Ghosts is that despite its numerous accolades, I wouldn’t tell everyone to read it, but I definitely would read another book by Tremblay. How’s that for wishy-washy?
Date published: 2017-01-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Reality TV meets The Exorcist The premise here is creepy enough: a down-on-their-luck family who thinks their daughter may be possessed (or do they?) sell their story as a reality tv show. The novel is told from the point of view of the youngest Barrett, so you're never quite sure what's real and what's going on. While this is not the most horrifying story I've ever read, the suspense and questions just build & build to a climatic ending. I definitely had to stop reading once or twice when I was home alone. There are a few scenes that are graphic in nature (comparing them to The Exorcist, as another poster did, is absolutely correct). My absolute favourite part was the not knowing - at some points I was 100% convinced this was a story about a poor young girl, possessed. At others, I thought maybe Marjorie was actually just trying to alleviate her parents financial woes. This needs to be made into a movie ASAP!
Date published: 2016-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Halloween Read! This is one of the scariest books I've ever read!
Date published: 2016-11-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Recommended! I’d heard quite a bit about this book before I finally got around to reading it, and I knew it would make a great Halloween read (I even finished it on October 31). I really enjoyed the way the story jumped back and forth in time, and the way information was sometimes revealed in the “present” and then shown later in the “past”. This story was a fascinating look at the relationship between Merry, our narrator, and her older sister, Marjorie. Was Marjorie truly possessed? Was she a troubled girl who needed more help than she received? What role did her parents’ financial woes play – is that why they agreed to make a reality show out of their family’s struggle? Merry is a tricky narrator, because she was eight years old when everything was happening with Marjorie and the reality show. How much did Mary understand of what was happening, and of what she saw and heard? And how accurate are those memories, after the passage of so many years? This book had its creepy moments, but it didn’t frighten me. However, if you found The Exorcist terrifying, be warned – there are some similarities that may get to you! The ending of A Head Full of Ghosts took me off guard, and I was still thinking about it a couple of days after I finished reading. Recommended!
Date published: 2016-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic, creepy, cannot recommend enough A Head Full of Ghosts was a terrifying look into the way mental illness affects both the individual and the family. The horror came partly from the exorcism aspects, of course, but also from Marjorie's family not being able to get her appropriate treatment. Any instance of improperly treated mental illness fringes on a horror story, in my eyes. Tremblay's exploration of the unreliable narrator was intelligently done, seducing me into believing the narrator and then being reminded that her telling cannot be trusted. Pairing this with the critical analysis of the blog posts ended up putting together an incredible read. Tremblay knows how to write people, and he knows how to write women. All his characters are realistic and flawed, eliciting our sympathy because their motives simply make sense. I recommend this book to everyone. If I can push a copy into your hands, I will. Go read this: treat yourself to an excellently written series of twists and turns, and see if you can figure out who to trust. read more reviews at www.katielovestoread.tumblr.com
Date published: 2015-10-30

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Editorial Reviews

“Tremblay paints a believable portrait of a family in extremis emotionally as it attempts to cope with the unthinkable ...Whether psychological or supernatural, this is a work of deviously subtle horror.”