Friday, October 7, 2016

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Reviewed by Christy H.
            Schizophrenia is a mental disorder with symptoms that may include hearing voices, persecutory delusions, as well as thought and movement disorders just to name a few. Onset symptoms usually occur between the ages of 16 and 30 with women on average showing signs around the age of 25. Marjorie’s symptoms begin at the age of 14. Because we the readers see events through the eyes of Marjorie’s eight year old sister Meredith we don’t get all the details of what is happening. What we do know is that something’s very wrong with Marjorie, and all the trips to the doctor and the medicine she’s taking isn’t helping.

            The family is already under quite a bit of strain when the novel opens. (Aren’t they always?) John, the girls’ father, has lost his job. Finding new work has been difficult and taken such a toll on his psyche that he’s turned to religion for guidance and peace – a fact that greatly annoys his wife Sarah and baffles his children. But with Marjorie’s illness getting worse and no sign of relief in sight, even Sarah reluctantly agrees to involve the church and, eventually, an exorcism. In a series of events unknown to us, because they are unknown to Meredith, the church somehow gets a production crew involved which uses the story to create a reality show called The Possession. The show is enough of a hit to inspire blog posts about its run years into the future – which we are occasionally privy to.

Early on in this book Merry, as her family calls her, refers to her big sister as “my Marjorie”, and I was immediately called to mind of the Blackwood sisters in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It sounded like something either one of them would say. I then noticed the back cover had reviews with so many comparisons to Jackson (mostly Jackson meets fill in the blank with Stephen King, William Peter Blatty, or Stanley Kubrick). As I read on I did notice quite a bit of similarities: close sister relationships, broken families, slow building tension, large Gothic houses, and even similar nicknames for the youngest daughters.

I loved this book. I loved the foreboding atmosphere, and the unsettling imagery. I loved sweet, eight year old Merry who tried so hard to be a good sister and daughter. She made me wish I could hug her and make her feel okay again. Tremblay wrote her wonderfully; she acted and spoke like a real child.  I loved how pieces of important information were slowly revealed, some so casually I had to re-read them just to make sure it said what I thought it did. I loved how it was the perfect book to read during autumn. Luckily my house stays cold so it was easy to imagine crisp air outside and changing leaves while bundled in a blanket – even in unfortunate 90 degree weather. I am planning on purchasing this book for my collection because I can definitely see many re-reads in the future.

(sidenote: I have discovered Tremblay has written a short story titled We Will Never Live in the Castle which I love already and will have to hunt down.)

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