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A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
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A Head Full of Ghosts

by Paul Tremblay

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8497215,958 (3.74)49
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The Barretts are a New England family who have been struggling for a over a year, since John lost the job he'd held at a toy factory for nearly twenty years. While mom Sarah works, their finances place the family under such strain that the three older Barretts become volatile.
The story is mostly narrated by the youngest Barrett, eight year old Merry, who is witness to her fourteen year old sister's transformation from playmate to screaming creature that crawls on the ceiling and terrifies the family. Through Merry's eyes, and she's put front and center to witness nearly everything, we see Marjorie's condition become so extreme that the family gets a reality show, with a director setting up shots and camera operators filming Marjorie's exorcism.

Is Marjorie really possessed or is she suffering from mental illness? Is the family being taken advantage of, or have they done what they had to for the money? And is Dad's religious fervor going to save the family? The reader is kept on unsure footing as we're seeing the family through the eyes of a child, but the Merry we meet 15 years after the family's reality show aired is a blogger who is pretty obsessed with the show that made her family infamous. 4.2 stars ( )
1 vote mstrust | May 8, 2019 |
Funny, sad, and not so scary. Love the twisty at the end. ( )
  Deracine | May 1, 2019 |
Years ago I read Nineteen Snapshots of Dennisport in the Cape Cod Noir anthology and was wicked impressed by Paul Tremblay. When I saw in July of 2015 he had a novel out, I didn't hesitate to pick it up. I have many, many books and did not get to it right away. In fact, the hardcover edition was lent out once or twice before I lost track of where it went to. I bought a second copy for my Kindle knowing I would get to it sooner rather than later as I had picked up Disappearance at Devil's Rock and wanted to read A Head Full of Ghosts fist (It in my living room and will stay there -it is NOT going out on loan!).

A Head Full of Ghosts is stunning, chilling and brilliant. I believe the family in it could live down the street from me. Given the dysfunction in our culture, the central story of modern day exorcism is painfully believable. Merry and Marjorie are two characters I found profoundly moving.

Please note: I have been seeing the Kindle edition on sale for $1.99. Don't let the low price fool you. This is an amazing and fresh novel. ( )
  KateSavage | Mar 29, 2019 |
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. ( )
  jrthebutler | Mar 18, 2019 |
It is... Okay.

Tremblay teases and flirts with supernatural horror in a way that reminds me of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Is Marjorie actually possessed or just mentally ill? The book rides the line of uncertainty until just past the midway point.

The story itself is compelling enough that I finished it in a matter of days, whereas I typically take my time and finish books in a week or two. My only gripe is that the uncertainty is only present because a character tells us to be uncertain.

SPOILERS
I hope I'm past the break where spoilers get hidden. If not, I apologize.
There are several points where Marjorie straight up tells Merry that she's faking it all and that everything she's doing is just a big show. Then father Wanderly tells us (by telling another character) that the invading entity afflicting Marjorie will lie for its on personal gain and to not believe it. This kind of thing happens throughout. It's effective, but frustrating because it is telling and not showing. I suppose it could be argued that that is the point. That Marjorie isn't all that good at pretending to be possessed so her uncanny actions aren't convincing enough to plant that uncertainty in our minds. Then, when an adult, who is supposed to be looking out for our characters best interests, tells us not to trust her, we are to take his word for it.

There is a lot to think about after that final frosty breath is taken. Our predilection for voyeuristic "reality" TV, and how often those shows exacerbate situations for the sake of the viewers entertainment. Our willingness to accept what adults say and do as truth while disregarding the simple perspective of a child. The power of stories. The power of faith/science.

It's also frequently pointed out that Merry is something of an unreliable narrator but unless I missed something, that information never really blooms into anything other than the fogginess of memory. No big revelations are made by her being unreliable.

All in all, it wasn't a bad read. It had some creepy moments, but I wouldn't consider it to be a horror novel any more than I'd consider The Exorcist to be a film about split pea soup. It's more like a family drama built upon a horror framework.

In hindsight, the title itself is more likely a reference to the fragile but permanent nature of memory. How we all have heads full of ghosts, those vague, blurry images of things long since gone that are always slipping out of reach but are constantly haunting us all the same. ( )
  Nick85 | Mar 12, 2019 |
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Epigraph
My memory, she was first to the plank, and the B-movie played in the aisle. - Future of the Left, "An Idiot's Idea of Ireland"

It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please! - Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper"

Do you wanna know a secret? Will you hold it close and dear? This will not be made apparent, but you and I are not alone in here. - Bad Religion, "My Head Is Full of Ghosts"
Dedication
For Emma, Stewart, and Shirley
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"This must be so difficult for you, Meredith."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
From the Back Cover
A chilling domestic drama that blends psychological suspense with a touch of modern horror from a new, brilliantly imaginative master

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 bizarre outbursts and subsequent descent into madness. As their 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 for a reality television show. With John, Marjorie's father, out of work for more than a year and medical bills looming, the family reluctantly agrees to be filmed—never imagining that The Possession would become an instant hit. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the 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 from her childhood—she was just eight years old—painful memories and long-buried secrets that clash with the television broadcast and the Internet blogs begin to surface. A mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising disturbing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.

A Head Full of Ghosts is a terrifying tale told with inventive literary flair and unrelenting suspense that craftily, cannily, and inexorably builds to a truly shocking ending.
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"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 bizarre outbursts and subsequent descent into madness. As their 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 for a reality television show."--Book jacket.… (more)

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