A Head Full Of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay

22999175Plunging right into it. No preamble. Not now, kids, I just can’t be bothered.

Summary: Merry Barrett narrates the story of her sister Marjorie’s battle with schizophrenia as a teenager. Merry, now 23, was eight years old when she began to notice the changes in her fourteen year old sister and hear her scream at night telling “them” to “get out of her head”. Marjorie, who once entertained Merry with stories, now rarely invites the younger girl to her room. When she does, she tells her dark, macabre-tinted stories that leave Merry upset. When the medication stops working (or Marjorie simply refuses to take any), their fanatically religious father decides to take the kids to church and also decides to get Marjorie exorcised. Their mother scoffs, but he disregards her. In addition to bringing a priest home, he also decides to make a reality show about his daughter’s condition, titled “The Possession.”

Format: The story is told from Merry’s POV. The book is divided into three parts and each part begins with a chapter written in a blog post format, followed by a chapter where Merry is interviewed by the bestselling author, Rachel, who’s writing a book about the Barrett family and the TV show they were once part of. This is followed by chapters in which Merry describes what “really” happened.

The Good: About 1/3rd of the book was eerie. While the “scares” employed mere shock-and-disgust techniques, the atmosphere of the first part was definitely creepy. The book pits science against the church and how many people suffering from mental illness do not get the medical aid they need because their families are busy believing that they’re “possessed”. The story also questions deep-rooted patriarchal belief systems, and a lot of questions the “possessed” Marjorie poses to the priest make you go, “Yeah, take that, patriarchy!”

The Downright Terrible: Let’s forget about the shock tactics (warning: involves vomit, faeces, menstrual blood), let’s also forget the eerie atmosphere the first few chapters established. What does the book have to make the reader finish the book? Questioning patriarchy is great, all thumbs up, but why clobber the reader on the head with it? Since this is a horror book, shouldn’t Marj be doing scarier things than engaging in discourse with the priest? That is all she does. Kid, the demon in you talks way too much. As a result, there isn’t any, how shall I put it…  excitement? Then there’s adult Merry’s super annoying blogger voice. She explains every. Single. Thing. Where’s the subtlety? Where’s the Show, Don’t Tell? And she makes too many references to popular films/books of the horror genre. And may I add, she is SO enthusiastic (so fake). The whole blog post format was unnecessary (the posts seemed like unflattering fillers) and could have been completely avoided. It adds absolutely nothing to story – only takes off the burden of “thinking” from the reader. The 23 year old Merry repeatedly mentions she does not remember much and the show, hearsay, fading memories have all added to what really happened. But when the POV shifts to 8 year old Merry, she gives scene-by-scene, day-by-day descriptions of events, right down to the clothes she was wearing.
The worst of all was the ending – I had a doubt about the narrator from the beginning, which has grown a bit in size since I found myself on the Acknowledgments page rather abruptly – no explanations whatsoever. I cannot mention the doubt here cos it could be a possible spoiler, but not knowing isn’t really killing me either. Basically the ending was jumbled and underwhelming and I honestly don’t care if I’m right or wrong at this point.

Goodreads | Amazon

PS: Never falling for this man’s recommendations again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!

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