WINNER OF THE 2015 BRAM STOKER AWARD FOR SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN A NOVEL
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.
Is Marjorie possessed? Someone, please tell me because this is driving me crazy! Merry is our unreliable narrator. We can’t completely trust her because A) She was 8 when all of this craziness went down. B) She’s retelling the story years later after memory is sure to work its deceptive magic as it tends to do. C) I’m not entirely convinced she wasn’t possessed herself!
So let us think about this…
What is Merry’s agenda?
Basically, Merry doth protest too much. Our narrator spends an awful lot of time trying to convince the reader that the reality show was a hoax. That the exorcism was a load of crap. There are blog excerpts throughout the book that seek to accomplish this and while they’re written by someone with a different name, Merry claims she is the author cloaking her identity. We don’t have any concrete reason to distrust that. In support of that, Merry admits in her interviews that Marjorie was sick, not possessed. I’m not quite sure how she could know that or why she would think that. As an 8 year old, her sister tormented her with scary stories, ideas, and convinced her to do the unthinkable to the rest of the family. I would think Merry would cling to the idea that some sort of evil was involved.
Which leads me to my next what the hell feeling…
Merry ain’t quite right!
I love Merry. Especially 8-year-old Merry. That said, something is wrong with adult Merry. We already know she is unreliable. But wait, she’s a murderer?!? And hang on, why the hell did it go and get all cold in the cafe at the end?!?!
Everybody knows (thanks, Winchester boys) that it gets very cold when you’re encountering something supernatural. I can’t imagine that the interviewer is a ghost or a demon and the barista is just not important enough. So, if the cafe is getting cold, which the author works hard to illustrate, Merry is the only cause. So, is Merry a ghost? Is Merry possessed?
Ghost – The book is called Head Full of Ghosts, but other than that, this book isn’t so much about ghosts. It’s about demon possession.
Possessed – This makes sense to me. Granted, I don’t think she started out that way. I think if Merry is possessed, she caught it like a bad cold from her sister Marjorie. You see, Marjorie was insistent that Merry be present at the exorcism. Why? So the demon could jump from one of them to the other, of course! Of course, I don’t know this, I’m making it all up. But it’s the best I’ve got!
I blame The Exorcist!
If it weren’t for that pesky, iconic, horrifying book and subsequent film, Paul Tremblay’s job would have been MUCH harder. I don’t want to discount all that the author did in this book, but let’s be honest. He relied heavily on the fact that readers would have these unforgettable images in their head of what possession entails. So he could say A LOT by saying very little.
Objectively, I suspect that if I didn’t have experience with The Exorcist, I wouldn’t think that Marjorie was possessed. But as the reader, I’m already so biased! So when Marjorie does all of that creepy shit that she does, I immediately draw comparisons to dear, sweet, Linda Blair. Yes, there’s vomit! Yes, there’s profanity! Yes, there’s masturbation with inanimate objects. Yes, there is violence! Yes, there are even things that Marjorie does with her body that should be impossibilities.
And maybe that’s the point. Maybe Tremblay wrote this book as a study in how our collective experiences shape our perception. I wonder if people who haven’t read or seen The Exorcist understand demon possession in the same way that people who have, do. Who the fuck truly knows what demon possession looks like if demon possession is real? We only know what Blatty showed us, or any author or filmmaker who has touched on the subject, but my experience is limited to Blatty. At least the unforgettable bits.
Here is what I think is happening in A Head Full of Ghosts…
I think Marjorie is definitely possessed. I understand that schizophrenia is a very real, legitimate, horrifying disease. However, I would hope that only evil could manifest these types of behavior in an innocent 14-year-old. So, we’re going with that, but about the rest of the book…
Because of Marjorie’s insistence that Merry be present at the exorcism, I think that whatever lived within Marjorie had the intention of using Merry as it’s next vessel. Now, Merry did flee the exorcism before the ol’ switch-er-oo could happen, which is why Marjorie goes after her, leaps over the banister, at which time she is suspended in air for a moment. Long enough that Merry says, “I remember seeing her eyes and seeing what they saw.” BOOM! That’s your moment folks. That’s when Merry becomes the bad guy. Her cover up story is that Marjorie convinced her to poison everyone but the major hole in that for me is, if Marjorie knew the food was poisoned, why in the ever-lovin’ hell would she willingly eat it?!? No, she wouldn’t. The demon had the plan, the demon planted seeds in both of these young girls, but it is definitely the demon as Merry that executes the murders. With no one left, no Marjorie sans demon to attest to its existence, no Dad to insist Merry be subjected to more religion, and no Mom to… I don’t know, whatever purpose Mom would have actually served (basically, no witnesses that Merry couldn’t actually avoid) the demon gets to live a long happy life partying in Merry. Which is why the cafe gets cold (duh) and also why “Merry” spends so much time doing that protesting that I was talking about.
That’s my story, anyway. It only took me THREE DAMN WEEKS to decide!
Love y’all! Don’t go and get possessed!