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A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts

3.8 29
by Paul 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



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.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Terrence Rafferty
Paul Tremblay's terrific A Head Full of Ghosts generates a…pleasurable fog of calculated, perfectly balanced ambiguity…By the end…you may not be able to say with certainty whether Marjorie's demon exists, but you know in your bones that evil does.
Publishers Weekly
★ 04/20/2015
Is the protagonist of this book a demon-possessed victim or a clever, manipulative teen? This savvy tale of horror tantalizingly keeps the reader waiting for an answer. When 14-year-old Marjorie Barrett begins behaving as though she’s demonically possessed, her Massachusetts family starts a reality-based television show, The Possession, to earn the money they desperately need to keep their household together. But 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? Marjorie’s younger sister, Meredith, who is recounting these events 15 years after her family’s ordeal, even wonders whether it’s possible for Marjorie “to be both possessed by a demon and faking it too.” 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. Agent: Stephen Barbara, Inkwell Management. (June)
New York Times Book Review
“Paul Tremblay’s terrific A Head Full of Ghosts generates a haze of an altogether more serious kind: the pleasurable fog of calculated, perfectly balanced ambiguity.”
NPR Books
“…progressively gripping and suspenseful — (Tremblay’s) ultimate, bloodcurdling revelation is as sickeningly satisfying as it is masterful.”
“The novel is stylishly written and well-conceived.”
B&N Reads
“Gripping and truly scary, this book feels of the moment in a way few thrillers do.”
“[A] creepy, interesting read, great for horror fans.”
Megan Abbott
“Crackling with dark energy and postmodern wit...[this] superb novel evokes the very best in the tradition—from Shirley Jackson to Mark Z. Danielewski and Marisha Pessl—while also feeling fresh and utterly new. Deeply funny and intensely terrifying, it’s a sensory rollercoaster and not to be missed.”
Cara Hoffman
“Dark, brilliant, and impossible to predict, [this] is more than a perfect horror story. It’s a smart and savage look at American culture in all its madness, and the price girls are forced to pay by a society obsessed with spectacle and sin.”
Sara Gran
“A genuinely scary, post-modern homage to classic horror that invokes Stanley Kubrik and Shirley Jackson in equal measure, but also manages to innovate on nearly every page. [It] is unlike any horror novel you’ve read, and yet hauntingly, frighteningly familiar.”
Stephen Graham Jones
A Head Full of Ghosts doesn’t end just because you close the book. Some horror, it bleeds through the pages, gets onto your hands, stays with you. You’ll be thinking about this one long after you’ve read it.”
Stewart O'Nan
“Paul Tremblay is an astonishingly talented writer, but even better, he’s twisted, and fun. A Head Full of Ghosts is mind-bending—scary, sad, sweet, funny, sick. ... . Terrifying, hilarious, smart, and satisfying.”
Elizabeth Hand
A Head Full of Ghosts is the literary lovechild of Shirley Jackson and William Peter Blatty, a novel that’s as disturbing as the worst nightmare you ever had as a kid, and as impossible to forget.”
This is Horror (UK)
A Head Full of Ghosts is one of the best novels released this year. ...Paul Tremblay confirms what we already knew: he’s one of the greatest horror writers today.”
Shock Totem
“This will easily be remembered as one of the most powerfully disquieting and deeply unsettling novels of the year, and may mark something of a turning point in the mainstream horror genre.”
“[A] scary story, indeed.”
“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.”
Ellen Datlow
“Loved it. Highly recommended for anyone who loves engrossing literary horror-undertones of The House of Leaves (but far more accessible) and The Exorcist, and redolent of Shirley Jackson.”
The Life Sentence
“Part psychological thriller, part demonic possession horror, this book is a juicy, fast-paced genre bombshell that just happens to be one of the smartest novels you’ll read this year.”
The Day newspaper
“By turns horrifying, very funny, melancholy, ironic and, with each page, dazzlingly original, A Head Full of Ghosts is a one-book rocket ride through contemporary society where, if Evil doesn’t actually exist in a Biblical sense, we’re just the folks to invent it on our own.”
Stephen King
A Head Full of Ghosts scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare.”
Library Journal
The Barretts are an ordinary family living in a Boston suburb until older daughter Marjorie suddenly displays symptoms of acute schizophrenia. Her increasingly erratic behavior affects her whole family. Her mother drinks and tries to get Marjorie professional help, her father turns to the Catholic Church for aid, and younger sister Merry just wants her sibling to go back to being normal. Is Marjorie sick? Is she faking? Or is she possessed by the devil? Because they are broke, the Barretts take a rather modern solution to the problem by having a film crew chronicle them for a new reality TV show. VERDICT In this brilliantly creepy novel, Tremblay (The Little Sleep) uses the clever framing device of a reporter who wants to write a book about the Barretts by convincing Merry to tell her version of the events. The author also acknowledges the books and movies that influenced his story, most obviously Peter Blatty's The Exorcist but also Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves and Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. [See Prepub Alert, 12/15/15.]—MM
School Library Journal
A creepy but not too creepy title. Young Marjorie Barrett is possessed by a demon, and her family decide to allow a TV crew to film them and the possession episodes, with an exorcism to be the series finale. Not surprisingly, this goes very, very badly. The novel's narrator is Marjorie's younger sister, Merry, who tells the story from her current perspective as a 23-year-old adult and from her point of view at eight years old, as the events at the Barrett house transpired. And then there's Karen, a blogger rewatching the TV series while live blogging about the episodes. What actually happened in the Barrett household and whether or not Marjorie was possessed are discussed by all three narrators—readers will have to decide if any of them is reliable. One of the more interesting moments in the work occurs in Merry's apartment when she meets with a reporter to discuss the possession and the reporter sees shelves of classic possession books and DVDs, except for one glaring omission (the missing title, Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, should give readers a heads-up about what's really going on). The horror here is less graphic than in The Exorcist or The Omen and will appeal to readers who aren't sure how deeply into the genre they want to go. Merry's bookshelves will provide a great bibliography for next reads. VERDICT The questions surrounding what possession is (and is not) as well as how television crews can manipulate reality will intrigue readers.—Laura Pearle, Milton Academy, MA
Kirkus Reviews
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. Fifteen years ago, the Barretts were just a typical Massachusetts family: father John, mother Sarah, and two daughters, Marjorie, 14, and Merry, 8, who got along well and often wrote stories together. Though John had lost his job, the family managed to stay afloat. Then Marjorie's behavior changed from normal teenage angst to something more disturbing. Tremblay (No Sleep till Wonderland, 2010, etc.) intercuts the past with present-day scenes of Merry being interviewed by an author writing a book about the Barretts' decision to allow their life to be televised on The Possession. It was John, with his renewed faith in God, who pushed for a Catholic intervention—an exorcism, à la Linda Blair—and Sarah finally agreed. Their priest, Father Wanderly, had connections to the television series, and going on the show offered a way for the Barretts to avoid defaulting on their mortgage. The TV crew moved into the family home, and yet, 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.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Paul Tremblay is a multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist and the author of the crime novels The Little Sleep and No Sleep Till Wonderland. He has served as the president of the board of directors of the Shirley Jackson Awards, and his essays and short fiction have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and numerous year’s-best anthologies.

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A Head Full of Ghosts 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read many horror and suspense novels, most of them forgetable and easily put down for my next book. While I was reading this novel, I would think about off and on during my work day and couldn't wait until I could find a cozy spot at the end of my craxy day as nurse and start reading. Most novels I rush through, almost compulsively trying to finish, but this one I read slowly and savored it. I hope this writer continues with this genre, he is gifted with a wonderful sense of what is psychologically scary without gore. Loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author keeps the reader on his/her toes throughout the entire book. Its fascinating and unpredictable. I loved it!
Cherylkochbooks More than 1 year ago
This book is told from the first person perspective of Merry. She is grown up and being interviewed about the events that led up to the present. I liked that this story was told from the first person voice of Merry but the younger version. Seeing everything through Merry's eyes helped me really get the full experience of what she and her family went through including Marjorie. Although I would classify this book more of a psychological thriller than horror. Yes, the events that transpired to the Barretts was creepy, it did not make the hairs on my arms stand up or keep me from being afraid of the dark. I would say it was more like the Amityville Horror type of scary. The ending however was mild and a little disappointing. For all of the things that transpired to lead up to the ending was sad. However this was a quick read. I did like what I read and would check out more books by this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book because Stephen King supposedly said he was scared... So I had to read it. I didn't find it scary but I agree with another reviewer in that it should be classified as a psychological thriller, not horror. What I really liked was the relationship between Merry and her sister. Very intimate and genuine. Little things like Marjorie calling her sister Monkey...very heartfelt. Those two sisters loved each other through it all and you could literally feel their connection. Great character development. I would definitely recommend to fans of psychological thrillers. Very very well written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Told from the prospective of the 8 year old sister Merry, this novel holds your attention as Margorie the older sister goes through possession or mental illness. I loved Merry & didn't want the book to end, but oh what an ending it was!! A must read but do not expect another version of the Exorcist! This book involves the entire family dynamic and keeps you guessing if the older sister is faking, possessed, schizophrenic or a manipulating surly teenager! I'm going to reread to look for more clues!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A compelling, dark, and believable tale.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished and ive got no words. Im breathless. So sad. So tragic. So plausible. So relateable. So good.
FroggyBella 3 months ago
Great Book, Very Different. This book was not what I was expecting, but I really enjoyed it. It was really well written, well thought out. The story keeps you guessing and a little off kilter because you aren't sure what is actually the true story. How the story is presented is disturbing and creepy at times, but it was impossible to put down. I read it in one day, I had to know what happened and how things turned out. I highly recommend this book!
FrancescaFB 7 months ago
What was real and what parts were faked? What was staged and what was really happening? Which family members were mentally ill, or were all so unstable by their life circumstances that they fell from their edges? Who really intended to poison who? Or was a poisoning really planned, and by who? This is why A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS will stay with you long after the reading is done.
bookworm_451 9 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Did not finish, most likely will not finish. Not sure what I was reading but definitely not what I was expecting to read.
SteveDeg More than 1 year ago
Written in the classic horror of New England. A family spiraling down the dark corridors of possession, of which, the author leads the readers to think madness or sickness. Creepy in the tradition of Shirley Jackson. A real treat for the supernatural and haunting tale fans.
insanepoet65 More than 1 year ago
The main reason I got this one is because Stephen King (master of goo gore and horror) said it scared the hell out of him. If it scares the master then it has to be good, right? RIGHT! For starters, this book needs to come with a warning label: DO NOT START IF YOU HAVE SOMETHING ELSE TO DO, LIKE EATING, GOING TO WORK, TIME WITH THE FAMILY, ETC.! Once you start, you will not want to stop. And once you are done you are going to sit and stare at the book and wonder “What the hell did I just read?” Take a middle class family, The Barretts, and lay the father off from a job he has had for a year. Add the stress of him not being able to find a job and the wife is the main bread winner in the house. Then said father goes religious, like totally religious. Insisting the family goes to church, pray, etc., and takes it to a high extent. The mother does not share the same view, and the daughters (one a teenager and the other an eight year old) do not know what to make of this. THEN, the teenage daughter starts exhibiting some strange behavior. Like beyond the norm of teen angst strange. It starts with stories she shares with her sister, and snowballs out of control. Before you know it, the father has convinced his wife to get the family on a reality television show called The Possession. The snowball is now getting bigger and faster. After the snowball crashes, it is not over. What happens after the events of The Possession reality tv show is more horrifying than what happened in the show. The image given at the end of the book has stuck with me and still sends the chills up my spine.
silencenomore More than 1 year ago
The Barrett's were a family willing to risk it all to save their daughter Marjorie from a psychotic breakdown. Her little sister Merry tries so hard to play and be her friend. In response she gets the actions of a demon. They were basically a normal family. Until one day everything went completely haywire. Someone is to blame for the ghastly events which leave this house, the unspeakable. Once you think you know, think again. So the priest, film crew, and psychiatrist fit into the plot. Leaving you with twists and turns. Great anticipation, and uncertainty in the mind of a young lady deemed unstable. Is she, or perhaps it's just the rest of the family. I give this book four stars. Kris
ABookishGirlBlog More than 1 year ago
So I'm all ready to get freaked out by this book and well it didn't happen, I mean there is definitely a psychological thriller type thing going on, but horror, no! And the story when I read it played like a monotone voice in my head so it was kind of boring and dry, however, I did finish it because I wanted to know the ending so the stories subject matter was at least interesting. So basically not as scary as I thought it would have been given the hype surrounding the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MCT_Book_Club More than 1 year ago
Rating: 3.5* Memory is a funny thing. You never know if what you remember actually happened or is your mind just telling you it happened. I’ve read somewhere, that whenever you recall a past event, you’re actually remembering the last time you recalled the event and not the event itself. I don’t know how far this is true, what I do know is that my own memory can be a dirty liar. This book is centered around the alleged possession of Marjorie and is told from the point of view of her younger sister Merry. Or rather multiple viewpoints of Merry's ; eight year old Merry, twenty three year old Merry, alternative personality Merry. My favorite aspect of the book was the relationship the sisters shared before it all went to hell, perhaps even while it was going to hell. I loved 8 year old Merry, I found her simply adorable, and perhaps this is because I have a younger sister I tended to relate to their relationship more. The thing is, I don’t know that I would classify this as horror exactly. It was suspenseful. It was mysterious. It didn’t scare me. It had its moments of subtle creepiness but it wasn’t nearly enough for me.That final twist was interesting but predictable. I didn’t catch the twist within the twist, but I am not a morning person and I can’t be expected to notice anything the author doesn’t come out and tell me straight at 6 in the morning which is when I finished this book. Was anyone in fact possessed? Personally I don’t think so, but what do I know. Not a bad book but not what I expected at all. I enjoyed the writing and cared about the characters. However if you’re expecting gruesomeness and have a high tolerance for the creepy, then this book will fall short of your expectations. If you want suspense without the gory, bloody, creepy horror, you might like it more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very nice twist(ed) ending
tpolen More than 1 year ago
If you're looking for a book to put you in the mindset of ghosts and ghouls and all things Halloween, look no further. The concept of making a reality show out of a possibly possessed teenage girl is one I've never seen in a book - but what a great idea! I guess it's only a matter of time before some network tries to do this. Alternating between her 8-year-old and 23-year-old perspectives, most of this story is told by Merry, who has a case of hero worship when it comes to her older sister, Marjorie. Through Merry's eyes, we see Marjorie display many of the same behaviors as Regan in The Exorcist and the gradual deterioration of her family from the stresses of Marjorie's illness, the reality show, unemployment, and bills. I'm not venturing into spoiler territory when I say an 8-year-old girl should be considered an unreliable narrator, and that's what makes this such an intelligent and remarkable story. When all is said and done, the reader is left to decide for themselves what really happened. Was Marjorie really possessed or were her actions more typical of a psychological disturbance? I thought about this for a few days before writing this review and looked on Goodreads to see what other readers were saying, but the conclusion is left open to interpretation. The story is interspersed with blog posts by a horror writer who analyzes the episodes of the reality show and although I understand the importance of this, it interrupted the flow of the story for me. A Head Full of Ghosts has some truly chilling, look-over-your-shoulder, sleep-with-the-lights-on moments and should be required reading for horror fans.
DanKeohane More than 1 year ago
This is a brilliant, quietly terrifying novel. In terms of the effect a story has on me as I read it, A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS is miles ahead of anything I’ve picked up in years. This book actually gave me nightmares (I finally stopped reading it at night before bed so I could get some decent sleep). In some ways – though I hate to make film-to-book comparisons – GHOSTS reads like a found-footage horror film, to the point where a number of times I forgot it was fiction. Tremblay tells the story through the eyes of the eight year-old younger sister, related to a reporter years later as an adult, and leaves the door open in the narrative (and the dialogue, especially between the sisters) as to what is the truth behind the events unfolding in the house. I found myself so immersed in the lives of these characters, relating to them in so many normal ways, they became real, and as such I was worried for them. To me, that’s the best indicator of a gifted author. To pull the reader in to a story so much they become part of it, become invested in the events unfolding on the pages. Tremblay does this so very well. It’s a sweet, sad and at times very dark story of a family struggling to pull themselves out of a crisis that feels insurmountable at times, told from the perspective of the most innocent among them. Once you start reading this story, you can’t stop. You don’t want to. It’s beautifully written, original and will make you think long after it’s done. Wonderful book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was pretty "hocus pocus" .... "boo!"..... stuff.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the narrative by the eight yr old girl I like the twists and the ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ok read