Book of the Week: A Head Full of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay

As much as I love discovering a great book to take out to booksellers, I love it even more when they discover a book and bring it to me.

That’s the case with A Head Full of Ghosts. I paid attention when Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman’s editor called this book “The Shining meets The Yellow Wallpaper.” But I hadn’t read it before the galleys went out in the ABA White Box. Booksellers quickly picked up this stylish exercise in literary horror and started writing me almost immediately.

First in was a favorite and trusted correspondent, Karen Tallant at The Booksellers of Laurelwood in Memphis:

“As you know, I’m a fan of horror, and a terribly picky snob about what I see as an important and ill-treated arm of fiction….[ A Head Full of Ghosts] is a brilliant presentation of a psychic and psychological breakdown of the first order; something reminiscent of both William Peter Blatty and Shirley Jackson….

Is Marjorie schizophrenic or is she possessed? Dad, who falls back on his religious upbringing in the face of long-term unemployment and fear over what’s happening to his oldest child, calls in a local priest.  The priest, seemingly playing his own agenda, calls in a production company and the family ends up on a reality show called The Possession.

“And that’s the existential cherry-on-top: modern media and communications make this completely different from anything Blatty has given us.  There is no patriarchal hero coming in to rescue Marjorie. There is the damning indictment on a society too full of voyeurism and knowledge without wisdom. And there’s the persistent uncertainty of Marjorie’s true condition. Any way you choose to look at it, this child is imperiled by evil. I lost a full night’s sleep pondering the existential questions an information society imposes upon us all.”

And from Bill Carl now at Willow Books in Action, MA–a bookseller who is also an author:

[This] is the kind of scary novel that has more on its mind than just the scares. When a family believes their eldest daughter is possessed, they allow a reality TV show to document and air a program detailing their trauma. But is Marjorie actually possessed? Could she be seeking out attention or actually developing schizophrenia? As seen through the eyes of her eight-year-old sister, the answers aren’t always easy . . . even when the sister is an adult, looking back on her experience of watching her older sister fall apart and trying to make sense of what happened through the tropes of horror films and gothic literature. This meta aspect of the novel will appeal to many (as we have seen The Exorcist and we all understand its trappings), but Tremblay offers us even more. We see a family torn apart by forces beyond their control . . . whether they be supernatural or not. Can any family survive such an onslaught? The incredibly fast-paced and extremely creepy (without ever resorting to cheap gore) novel will appeal to many different readers, but especially those who love The Yellow Wallpaper or House of Leaves. It’s a spooky story, but with a tragic, heart-felt difference. What a book!”

A Head Full of Ghosts was soooooo good I had to keep going and it was completely worth it. I loved the blurry line between possession and mental illness. I loved the broken father, broken home theme that pulls on you throughout. That in itself is scarier than any of the Exorcism-style-spooks. This was such an interesting look at so many issues thrust right into the public eye and how impossible it is to deal with that. I want to say it was delightful, but I’m going to have to admit it was disturbing in the best way. Fantastic.”
— Brittany Jackson, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

No surprise that this is an Indie Next pick. It also caught the eye of reviewers. PW gave it the rare starred and boxed review; other advance review outlets also raved.

[Is] Marjorie really channeling a creature of supernatural evil, or is she just good at Internet research, which keeps her one step ahead of her gullible parents and doctors? …Tremblay paints a believable portrait of a family in extremis emotionally as it attempts to cope with the unthinkable, but at the same time he slyly suggests that in a culture where the wall between reality and acting has eroded, even the make-believe might seem credible. Whether psychological or supernatural, this is a work of deviously subtle horror.”
Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)

“When a teenager exhibits early signs of schizophrenia, her parents turn not to traditional psychiatry but to a Catholic priest determined to drive out demons and a sleazy reality TV show eager to get the whole fiasco on tape….[Y]et, instead of capturing the “truth,” an even more elaborate fiction began to play out, with deadly consequences. As the adult Merry’s memories clash with the televised version of events leading up to the climactic final episode of The Possession—it’s not spoiling too much to say that everything that could go wrong does—readers will begin to question if anyone in the house is truly sane. Tremblay expertly ratchets up the suspense until the tension is almost at its breaking point.”
Kirkus Reviews

A Head Full of Ghosts (9780062363237) by Paul Tremblay. $25.99 hardcover. 6/2/15 on sale.


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