A Head Full of Ghosts

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A Head Full of Ghosts
A Head Full of Ghosts cover.jpg
AuthorPaul G. Tremblay
Cover artistAmanda Kain
Set inBeverly, Massachusetts[1]
Published2015 (HarperCollins)
AwardsBram Stoker Award for Novel[3]

A Head Full of Ghosts is a horror novel by American writer Paul G. Tremblay. The plot involves an American family from Massachusetts who is under strain when their fourteen-year-old daughter, Marjorie Barrett, exhibits signs of mental illness.[4] The story is told from the point of view of Marjorie's eight-year-old sister, Meredith "Merry" Barrett. However, the point of view also has another layer as Merry's story is flashbacks. She's a 23-year-old now and is telling her story to a writer named Rachel Neville. Themes include elements of Catholic exorcism and reality television exploitation.

The novel was published on June 2, 2015 by William Morrow[2] and won the Horror Writers Association's Bram Stoker Award for Novel in 2015.[3][5] Focus Features has acquired the rights to develop a movie adaptation.[6]


The book is told from the perspective of Meredith "Merry" Barrett, a 23-year-old who is finally ready to share details of the horrific incidents that occurred when she was 8-years-old. Merry tells this story to a writer named Rachel Neville, These flashbacks are what serve as the narrative going forward in the novel, with a few chapters that show Merry and Rachel in the present. There are also a few chapters containing posts from a blog called "The Last Final Girl." This blog, which is written by a girl named Karen, is diving into a deconstruction of the reality TV show that Merry and her family starred in called The Possession. It is later revealed that Karen is actually a pseudonym for Merry.

As we follow Merry as a precocious 8-year-old, we see that her home life is strained. Her father, John, is unemployed, leaving her mother, Sarah, to serve as the home's sole breadwinner while their savings account is slowly drained of resources. To make matters worse, Merry's sister Marjorie has been acting in an increasingly bizarre fashion, blurring the lines between schizophrenia and full-blown demonic possession. This particularly comes to Merry's attention after her sister begins telling her strange and macabre stories instead of innocent ones based on characters from Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. Unbeknownst to Merry, Marjorie has been seeing a therapist, something she only learns after Marjorie experiences a particularly bad episode.

Things continue to go downhill until Merry's father, who had recently become a born again Catholic, decides that Marjorie is possessed by a demon and enlists the help of his church's priest, Father Wanderly, who believes an exorcism is necessary. Meanwhile, John agrees to have Marjorie become the focus of a reality TV show called The Possession. A TV crew, including director/producer Barry Cotton and head writer Ken Fletcher, move into the Barrett's home and start documenting their every move.

The show only manages to tear the family further apart and during this time Marjorie tells Merry that she has been faking her signs of demonic possession. She chose to do this because the family was in danger of losing their home and the show's producers were paying their family a large enough amount of money for them to survive. It's hard to tell whether or not Marjorie is telling the truth, and this is left to interpretation by the end of the novel.

Tensions get increasingly higher, leading up to the climactic exorcism of Marjorie Barrett. As Merry tells her story to Rachel, even more secrets are revealed and the lines between fiction/non-fiction, reality and fantasy, begin to blur even further.

Nods to Other Horror Books[edit]

Author Paul Tremblay is a fan of different horror movies, books, and TV shows. The book has Easter eggs that any horror fan would recognize, including borrowing names:

  • The family's last name is Barrett. This is the same last name of the physicist and his wife in Richard Matheson's Hell House.
  • One of Marjorie's doctors is named Dr. Navidson. This was a last name used in House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski