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A Head Full of Ghosts

Written by: Paul Tremblay
Narrated by: Joy Osmanski
Length: 8 hrs and 49 mins
4 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 suburban New England family, are torn apart when 14-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia. To her parents' despair, the doctors are unable to halt 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 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 best-selling writer interviews Marjorie's younger sister, Merry. As she recalls the terrifying events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories begin to surface, and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed.

©2015 Paul Tremblay (P)2016 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd

Critic Reviews

" A Head Full of Ghosts scared the living hell out of me, and I'm pretty hard to scare." (Stephen King, best-selling author)
"Terrific.... Generates a haze of an altogether more serious kind: the pleasurable fog of calculated, perfectly balanced ambiguity." ( The New York Times Book Review)

What members say

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    3 out of 5 stars
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A head full of voices

#spoilers Maybe 😶
I've been fascinated with the idea of reading "A head full of ghosts" by Paul Tremblay. Inspite of the mixed reviews I blindly trusted Stephen King when he said, "Scared the living hell out of me, and I'm pretty hard to scare."
Apparently I'm harder to scare, because the book neither inspired fear, nor terror and definitely not disgust.
If anything it's a retelling of a family, spiralling downward into irrevocable death, literally. The entire book alternates between Meridith and Karen Brisette.
Meridith Barett, now 23, recalls to famous author Rachel, the time 15 years ago when her possibly schizophrenic older sister, Marjory, was suspected of demonic possession. Wham, in the craze of docuseries and reality TV, when the word of Marjory's possession gets out, praying the demon out of her becomes into a highly rated reality TV show, The Possession.
Thanks to the fame of The Possession, the Barett mansion turns into a run down decrepit house of horrors, especially because of how the show ended.
Karen, a blogger who seems to have an unhealthy obsession with the show, 15 years later deconstructs the 6 part series in her blog, painstakingly, scene by scene.
Now that I'm done with giving the blurb, without giving away spoilers, let's talk about why the hell isn't this book scary?!
What I liked: Tremblay's portrayal of two young sisters, especially Merry (Meredith). Having a young son myself, the authenticity of an 8 year old's thought process, actions, fears and voice and bang on.
What I disliked: There's so much focus on Merry's character arc, that everyone else pales in comparison. Considering that Marjory, the parents and Father Wanderly had key roles in the story line, to me, many things remained unanswered. Also I would have liked had there been a doubt in my mind about Marjory's possession, but honestly there wasn't any and that's why it wasn't scary.
It was clear that Marjory was a disturbed child, but there wasn't a back story that would explain why Marjory was the way Marjory was.
Of course there were small flashes into the past, but not enough to connect the dots.
All in all, I would give this book a 3/5 rating. Also recommend that you read, not because you like things that go bump in the dark, but because it is heartbreaking to watch a family disintegrate from the eyes of an 8 year old.

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  • Kaggy
  • 30-03-18

Truly mad and deeply disturbing

This is a brilliant and genuinely disturbing piece of horror fiction skilfully intertwining themes of superstition, religion, mental illness, modern day rationality and the vulnerability of children in an economically beleaguered family.

In the story’s construction the writer is unashamedly influenced by Shirley Jackson and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, with the young heroine, Merry, sharing a similar name to the earlier heroine (Merricat). Like that book this one has a strange out of kilter atmosphere created out the mind of a very wise child. This follows Merry who is 8 years old and in the thrall of her older sister who at 14 years of age is displaying disturbing signs of mental illness. The early scenes where Merry is being cruelly baited by the sister are truly chilling but her trust in her big sister is relentless despite her growing bewilderment and fear. This is a story of a family torn apart by madness and economic misfortune but there is always the question of what is really going on and whose is the head that is full of ghosts.

For those familiar with the Exorcist, the ghastliness of the scenes depicting the apparent possession will hold no surprises but this goes far beyond a straightforward story of good versus evil. There are some bizarre events, including the portrayal of the family’s plight on reality television, but really this is no more crazy than the world we are currently experiencing. Joy Osmanski provides a seamless performance giving a credible voice to Merry as a child and a grown woman. Like Merry you will want to make sense of this story but no matter how thoroughly you analyse this, you will always be left with a head full of unfathomable mystery.

Top marks to this author. He is clearly a man who has tremendous talent and something fresh, new and intelligent to add to this genre.

13 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Tim P.
  • 10-09-18

A very clever 'haunting'. Pls read whole review...

I'd been recommended Paul Tremblay as an author as I'm a fan of horror and when this and another of his books were in my wish list as well as an audible credit BOGOF deal I jumped in! I start off this review with a couple of negatives, but purely personal views and shouldn't prejudice against a great 'read' so pls read all my (again, personal) thoughts.

To get the first monkey off my back, I have to say I wasn't a fan of the narrator when she did 'male' voices. As limited as they were they came across as comical and took the edge of some moments unfortunately. That said, Joy Osmanski did an excellent job of the female characters, even the different voices for the same people i.e. through the ages.

The second monkey was that although I really enjoyed this book, i didn't find it scary. I enjoy reading and watching horror, but although they never really give me the frights they hold my suspense, while perhaps feel they lose something for me personally in the audio format. This held me, but if you are similar to me you aren't in for a horrific time... unfortunately.

But this was still a great book as you can see from my score. So classing this as a psychological thriller, it holds it's own as we care about characters, what they're going through and how they themselves feel at any given moment. If flits between a 'now and then' storyline but they aren't that far apart (less than 20 years) so we have contemporary view to the situation which makes a nice change for this 'Exorcist' type setting rather than the old, Victorian gothic or mental wards and horrendous medical practices of yesteryear i.e. digital technology, mobile phones, clued up teenagers and a progressive view of mental health.

For fans of the horror genre part of the premise may seem overdone, possessed young girl needs an exorcism, but the great thing is the author Paul Tremblay more than eludes to this in the book, almost debunking his own storyline as we go as we follow the perspective of the possessed younger sister as a child and adult. But it never detracts from what he trying to convey.

It is a very clever book, well researched and written and never feels like a carbon copy of anything you may have read or watched before. Tremblay's blogging character who reviews the TV show the possession is based on, ironically The Possession, has a great knowledge of films, both horror and filming techniques (which as a media student I appreciated but it didn't go into boring detail) and the classic stories to refer to. Clever, not just in terms of factual detail but how the possessed girl thinks, what she knows, what she makes you think & feel as well as twists along the way.

I don't want to give much away, but thoroughly enjoyed it and have The Devils Disappearance lined up in my queue for a soon to be listened to experience. Glad I gave Tremblay a go - thanks audible!

5 people found this helpful

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  • Ms T
  • 28-02-18

A solid ghost story

A good, old-fashioned spooky story which leaves you wondering what to believe and what will happen next after every chapter. Stephen King states this book ‘scared the living hell’ out of him: I wouldn’t go that far but it’s a solid story with an ending I wasn’t expecting.

2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • EllenD
  • 19-05-17

Chilling!!

I'm not sure what I expected at all but this book was so good! A story of hauntings and exorcism or mental illness....you decide.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Jus Shemare
  • 17-12-16

Haunting

Possible one of the best audio books I've listened to this year. The best stories don't just end, this one I will be thinking about for a while.

5 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Marjorie Barreto-Neto
  • 28-12-18

Definitely different

Strange book and stranger ending. But it’s nice to not be able to guess the ending. My wife didn’t think the book was scary at all or that interesting but wanted to see where it was going, then didn’t like the ending.
It’s not just another exorcism book and either a quasi-brilliant move on the authors part or a huge mistake writing it from that POV interjected with mental illness. Although I can’t see how anyone could not include mental illness with possession affecting persons close to the “possessed,” I don’t actually believe that one can’t exist without the other. I, like Mary, am still trying to figure the whole thing out.
One of the shortest reviews I’ve written though I think I’ve given it enough. This one I have to think about before I can do it justice.
One thing is you’ll either really like it, or not, understand what and why, or not, ponder it for awhile, or not. At least you might understand this review being informative, or not.

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Jo
  • 16-08-18

Disappointed

Nearly gave up on this quite quickly as found the narrator too fast and irritating, however I kept going due to the excellent reviews.
I think they listened to a different book!
It wasn’t scary and I just didn’t get it!! Supernatural or mental illness...who knows!
Don’t bother!

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Stephen Amos
  • 10-08-18

Great story<br />

This is an excellent and very moving story. It's not scary so if you are looking for that you may be disappointed. It moves briskly and the ending really got to me.

The only downside for me was the narration. The reader has a great voice however she struggles with male characters. I would have preferred that she not try to put on voices and instead just read the story.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Laura Drohan
  • 20-07-18

fantastic

I went into this not hoping for much and the only thing I can say is that I wish I'd bought it sooner. brilliant story and brilliant narration.

1 person found this helpful

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  • filmfan91
  • 09-01-20

Minimalist but no less haunting

Having heard tales of a horror novel that is said to be the best in the last decade, I was naturally curious about the story and thus downloaded the audiobook.

The story was quite minimalist compared to most horror stories, the action mainly being confined to one setting and a family of characters, but do not be mistaken.

The story of Marjorie Barrett and her descent into her mental illness/paranoid schizophrenia is a haunting one. One early scene in the novel features a monologue that shook me to my core, more powerful then most gore filled scenes.

I can not recommend this story more strongly and will implore anyone looking for a spooky story and critique on popular culture, this should be your next story.

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  • JD
  • 13-02-18

Meh

I am struggling to find anything that has come close to Andrew Pypers earlier books. I have no idea what this one was trying to achieve, but by the midway point I was just listening to finish it. It was intriguing, but not the least but scary.

1 person found this helpful

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  • M. Huddlestone
  • 21-12-19

A dark crimson diamond in the rough

an unexpected gem of a story that had well written build up, explored characters and an ending I didn't see coming.

highly recommend it.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Daylan
  • 10-11-19

Every exorcism cliche in one book

This book was ‘meh’ at best. It uses all the cliches and exorcism tropes to progress its story, but then tries to blame its unoriginality on the characters more than the writer.
Nothing new to see here at all.
The narrator does the male characters a disservice and makes them sound absurd, which took away any gravitas they had in the story, and many characters feel like they have a key part in the story that will be revealed as important but they ultimately come to nothing.
Definitely nothing to, as the cover quote from Stephen King puts it, ‘scare the hell out of you’ here. It’s about as middle of the road as it gets.

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  • JT
  • 21-09-19

meh

Made me feel anger similar to that from when i read about anti-vax parents online. Not unsettling or scary at all, never put me on the end of my seat, but the last chapter saves it a little.

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  • Brendan
  • 18-06-19

Interesting twists and turns.

I really enjoyed this reading. One criticism for a brilliant performance, work on your male voice! Otherwise, as I said, brilliant. As for the story itself, it lacked a lot of true horror or, what makes me frightened anyway. Stephen King gave It high praise so who am I to judge. I just found it to be more of an account of a situation that I found myself easily lost in at times and distant at others. But I sound like I'm criticising too much when I enjoyed the characters and following along with Merry. Action from beginning to end which is a big winner. I wanna hang out with Ken too. Overall, I recommend.

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  • Diana Szymiczek
  • 07-03-18

Excellent

What a fantastic story! It was creepy, funny, and emotional. I can’t wait to see the movie adaptation.

1 person found this helpful

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  • sharee
  • 15-01-17

great story

loved the story but the ending left me wondering and just didn't give me quite enough...