A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay


The story follows the Barrett family and the events surrounding the eldest daughter Marjorie as she starts to show symptoms of acute schizophrenia. As her condition worsens and doctors become increasingly perplexed by her plight, the family patriarch John approaches his local priest and events take a turn towards the supernatural.

Add to this mix Marjorie’s impressionable 8 year old sister Merry, a family in financial turmoil a camera crew, a hit TV show and the stage is set… 15 years later Merry is being interviewed by a bestselling biographer and through these discussions and Merry’s own horror blog, the real story of the Barrett family is revealed.

I’ll state up front this book wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Tremblay manages to ramp up the tension as you continually question whether Merry is describing reality, possession, mass hysteria or her own flights of fancy? The narrative cleverly throws in many nods to possession-themed horror such as The Exorcist, The Last Exorcism and Paranormal Activity. For example, the family’s struggles are turned into a TV show ‘The Possession’ and Tremblay plays with the reader’s expectations of found footage horror narratives and their effect upon our perceptions of reality. Whilst AHFOG will inevitably appeal to horror fans due to its many references, the story displays a respectful cynicism towards the horror genre and its tropes. I almost got the sense Tremblay was using this cynicism to ask the reader to consider a much greater (reality-based) issue – that of young adult mental health and its effects upon family life. As we follow Marjorie’s mental deterioration the real horror unfolds and the ending is truly devastating.

I bought this book following a recommendation by Stephen King on his Twitter account; “it scared the living hell out of me”. I can totally empathise. I’m a slow reader and it played on my mind for a good week or so whilst I completed it. Tremblay explores a very modern topic using the horror genre as an anchor, however AHFOG is so much more than just a ‘horror’ novel and it deserves to find an audience beyond the horror community.


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