Content warnings: Mental health issues, sexual references, mentions of sickness, emotionally distressing scenes of a religious nature, deaths.
My rating: 5 books out of 5
- Joy Osmanski is one of the only people I have heard narrate a child’s voice without cringing.
- Honestly every time I think about this book I just stare into space
- There’s something horrifying about seeing it all through Merry’s eyes
- I love a multi-narrative story
- The growing things are traumatising
- It’s just such a good book
“There’s nothing wrong with me, Merry. Only my bones want to grow through my skin like the growing things and pierce the world.”
In today’s episode of ‘You’d think Charlotte was smart enough now not to listen to horror books while alone at work but you’d be wrong’ we have A Head Full of Ghosts, a book so enthralling that at points I had to stop what I was doing and just listen to the story unfold while staring, open mouthed, into space.
If you’re remotely interested in possession-based horror, it’s likely you’ve heard of A Head Full of Ghosts and there’s good reason for that. Following the Barrett family as they deal with unemployment, poverty and their daughter Marjorie’s increasingly worrying mental state, we see it all through the eyes of their youngest daughter, Merry. While we as the reader understand why the food portions on their table are getting smaller, why the cupboards are growing increasingly more bare and why Mr and Mrs Barrett are fighting more, Merry doesn’t. All she sees is the growing unhappiness of her family, and her loving, story-telling sister becoming frightening to her.
When reading books about possession, you often come across the age old argument that what presents itself to the believer as being a possession by a demonic entity may in fact be medical in nature. Marjorie’s doctor believes she is showing signs of schizophrenia, Marjorie’s father believes after discussion with his priest that Marjore is possessed. Seeing as I am neither Catholic nor a psychiatrist, I know very little about the details of either beyond what I see in the media – and I doubt that said media cares very much about realism most of the time. So while I can’t comment on whether or not Marjorie’s suffering is accurate from a medical or theoretical standpoint, I can comment on how this clash between medicine, religion and television is shown throughout the book. Desperate for money to pay the heap of medical bills Marjorie is bringing in, and to keep their heads above water while Mr Barret finds a job, the family invite into their home a television crew for a new reality show – The Possession. Merry’s recollections are interrupted periodically by those of blogger Karen Brissette whose blog The Last Final Girl is looking back at the show in question and tearing it apart with a critical eye as something entertaining but ultimately untrue. Every time I thought I had decided between demons and mental illness, the narrative switched and doubts set in. Honestly it was masterful, and you know I love a multi-text narrative.
Horror works well as audio, whether it’s scary stories over torches or an Audible production experienced while sorting deliveries, there’s something so unnerving about hearing the story in a voice that isn’t your own internal monologue – especially when the author is going for realism. I felt the audiobook did a great job of differentiating between narrators as well, each had a strong individual voice to help me know who was speaking and Joy Osmanski did a STELLAR job of narrating as a child without being deeply irritating. Let’s be honest, there is probably nothing more irritating than a grown adult doing an entire novel’s worth of baby voice. Osmanski was incredibly good, her narration was childlike without being campy and patronising. Set against the performative snark of the blogger and the subdued voice of an adult Merry looking back at the horrific things that happened to her family, I honestly can’t credit the narration enough for my experience of this book. As it drew to a close I had to set down what I was doing and just listen, just experience the end of a story well told. It was wonderful.
I read a lot of books, comes with the territory, and so I often have to note things down while reading in order to preserve in my mind the experience and details of a particular book before moving onto another. With this book, there was no need. Full disclosure, I listened to this book about four months before writing this review, and all I needed to look up was how to spell Marjorie (because I had listened to it, I never saw the actual spelling in text). No notes needed, I sat down to start writing and the sensations of reading this fantastic and haunting book just came back. I’m making Lauren read it so I have someone to discuss it with, it’s just so good. Definitely going to read more of Paul Tremblay’s books, and I recommend you do the same!