Friday, January 5, 2024

Review: A Head Full of Ghosts

 I just finished A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (2015).

I'm used to reading Horror short stories, so reading a full-length horror novel feels like a step forward (or downward into the dark). My first impression is that A Head Full of Ghosts is "a comfortable horror story." Given the title, I expected ghost possession, in the tradition of A Turn of the Screw. But this is a modern cousin of The Exorcist.

And after having survived watching that film and reading that book (as therapy after watching the film), it's hard to scare me with demon possession stories. That's why this was a "comfortable" read. It was packed with enough familiar things that I wasn't pissing my pants every five minutes or having nightmares. In other words, it didn't offer much new in the way of possession stories. Comfortably classic. It even pokes fun of the whole concept of possession literature in the form of "blog posts" that break down the possession genre and the reports of this story's particular possession in modern terms, which, honestly, give much needed breathing space between the violent, disturbing moments of the possession itself, while drawing out the tension and providing shocking foreshadowing.

The other breakaway from The Exorcist was the ending. In a priceless article that follows up the novel (in which the author explains what horror is or ought to be, in his opinion), he poses the question "what happens to these people after the event? how do they get on with life after surviving such horrible things?" (paraphrased) And that's how this story ends, with more horror of a different kind. No spoilers though.

The characters were perfectly believable and realistic in their reactions and behaviors, as were the explanations/hints as to why Plotpoint XYZ was happening, which cast just enough doubt on the situation to keep the reader wondering: Is this real? Is she lying? Plus, the flow and structure of the novel made for an effortless read. There's no belaboring anything. And I couldn't put it down. So I finished the novel in about 4 days, which is hugely odd for me, as it generally takes me a couple of weeks to sit through a novel.

Given Tremblay's answers to the paraphrased questions above, I'll be seeking out more of his work in the future.

For more, visit the Goodreads page and links for A Head Full of Ghosts.

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