Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Not your ordinary exorcism

A Head Full of Ghosts

By Paul Tremblay

Publisher: William Morrow 

Pub. Date: June 2, 2015

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

What the world needs is a good exorcism. Send a couple priests up into space. Let they spray three trillions tons of holy water or whatever on Planet Earth and let them exorcise the hell out of the rock. If eighty percent of the population bursts into flames or smoke out as in a Supernatural episode then so be it. Whoever is left, after the demons that are screwing up this world are vanquished, would then be free to fix the place up and perhaps they will get it right for once. I mean, really! Can this planet get much worse? But since that is not going to happen, it is going to be one exorcism at a time. Tedious but what are you going to do? It's a nice fantasy, whether you go single file "Get behind me, Satan!" or planetary exor-fest.

Of all the varieties of horror themes, I believe exorcism and the idea of demon possession is the one that scares people the most. It also may be the most cathartic. With the wide range of atrocities mankind can inflict on one another, the idea of "The Devil made me do it!" can be as comforting as demon possession is horrifying. In A Head Full of Ghosts Paul Tremblay is dealing with demon possession and exorcism but he is also dealing with the labyrinth of natural inner demons that even the most innocent may have within them.

The Barretts are a family in crisis mainly because of the odd schizophrenic like behaviors of the oldest daughter, Marjorie. Despite her regular visits to a psychiatrist she continues to get worst. Her religiously inclined father seeks the help of a priest who is convinced she is demon possessed. As the family is in serious financial trouble, they agree to have the exorcism televised in a virtual TV series titled "The Possession".

That is the start of A Head Full of Ghosts. What follows is a deviously clever mix of The Exorcist and We Need To Talk About Kevin. The tale is told by the younger sister Meredith aka "Merry" 15 year later and is told through a interview she gives with a writer who wishes to write a book about her family and the incidents that befalls the TV show. We also get some insight by a blogger who goes under the name of Karen Brissette. Merry was eight years old at the time of her sister's possession and the telling through the eyes of the adult Meredith allows a deeper dimension than if the story was told at the time by 8 year old Merry. And here is the rub. Merry adores her sister yet Marjorie is very manipulative and more than a little sadistic. It is a form of manipulation that confuses the young girl Merry but is still haunting the older Meredith. When Marjorie develops the symptoms of demon possession she tells Merry she is faking it. But is she? Marjorie is either truly possessed or a very disturbed and psychopathic teenager. The suspense lies in finding out which one it is. Yet the tension of the telling resides in Merry's own childish confusion about what is happening and her own precarious position as the youngest member of the family which places her in a terrifying role as the drama unfolds.

I was totally enamored by A Head full of Ghosts; the structure and the plotting, the characters, and most of all, the clever mingling of horror and family psychodrama. The biggest achievement was how Tremblay told the oft-told exorcism story in an unusual way that turned some of the gimmicks on its head. The author is of course well aware of the gimmicks of the standard exorcism plot as cemented in our culture by William Blatty's book and film, The Exorcist. In fact, the movie is often referenced in the book not only to set a foundation but perhaps also as a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the traps Blatty has set up for future writers in the genre. Tremblay takes those traps head on and make the story his own. However you think the story will unfold in the end, I predict you will be surprised. Head Full of Ghost is a strong entry in the psychological horror division and may be the best book to take on the idea of exorcism and demon possession since Blatty's seminal novel. Highly recommended.

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