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Friday, September 16, 2016

A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay, winner of this year's Bram Stoker Award for Best Horror Novel, is a nifty book that's not about ghosts, not in the way we understand them. On the surface it is about an exorcism, but what it's really about is the madness that exists in the surface tension of families, and the exploitation of tragedy.

The book is told in flashback by Meredith Barrett, now twenty-three, and we are to understand that she is the sole survivor of something horrible that happened to her family. She is giving interviews to a writer who is penning a book about it. Gradually it unfolds--Meredith's older sister, Marjorie, was exhibiting strange behavior. After psychiatry did not help, the girls' father looked to religion, became convinced Marjorie was possessed by a demon, and engaged a priest to perform an exorcism.

If that weren't enough, and to counter financial woes, the entire thing was filmed as a reality TV show called The Possession. Meredith was only eight when it occurred, and is torn between love and fear of her sister, who at times menaces her with lurid stories. "'You have to remember that story about the two sisters. You have to remember all my stories because there are— there are all these ghosts filling my head and I’m just trying to get them out, but you have to remember the story about the two sisters especially. Okay?'" Marjorie tells her.

In a further bit of post-modernism, Meredith pseudonymously writes a blog that deconstructs the entire show. The writer asks her how she can distance herself enough from the reality of the situation to write it about it objectively.

While the book doesn't have the scares that other exorcism books have--who can hope to top William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist--it doesn't really try to do that, and instead becomes a kind of commentary on the whole exorcism business. Many exorcism films are mentioned in passing. It's as if Tremblay realized he couldn't just sit down and write an old-fashioned exoricsm book and instead went meta. It works. A Head Full of Ghosts is not very scary, but it's a good read.

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