A Head Full Of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay

A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay

WILLIAM MORROW – An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers (2015)

I have just received this book as purchased from Amazon UK.

My previous review of works by Paul Tremblay HERE.

I intend gradually to real-time review this novel and, when I do, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above.

21 thoughts on “A Head Full Of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay

  1. I intend to take this very slowly… and no spoilers.

    Chapter 1

    The narrator is Meredith or Merry, whose older sister is, I gather, called Marjorie. He has arrived at the large house where it all happened without our yet knowing what happened. He accompanies Rachel, best-selling author who has borrowed the house in order to interview Meredith about what happened there, presumably in his childhood. (It must be a coincidence or preternaturally fated but I started real-time reviewing yesterday HERE another new book about a different large house and others talking separately in interview about what once happened there. I like reviewing books in tandem, often a symbiotic process without my having planned it. We shall see.)
    A Head Full of Ghosts. Is it a coincidence, too, that, as well as setting the scene evocatively, this first chapter has two separate ‘objective correlatives’ of baby teeth and a blue hat.
    I also like the way the paper pages are rough cut along their edges (like those French books that I used to need to cut in the 1960s) and aesthetically coarse, with the titles being faintly shimmering upon the fade.

  2. Chapter 2

    “Beware of spoilers. I WILL SPOIL YOU!!!!”

    A change of text font and I suddenly think Mark Z. Danielewski. (I recently reviewed his THE FAMILIAR novel). Also reminded again of ‘the Preterite and the Preinternet mind’ (my expression, not the text’s) as this brief chapter is a transcription of a blog loaded from HTML or about such a blog or planning for a blog although I am confused now not about gender but about the chronology. A blog about the hindsight of a Reality Tv show called ‘The Possession’ that helped my problem with the gender of Merry. I hope that THAT isn’t a spoiler. Does a fiction about Reality TV – where people often role play and thread themselves along the audit trail of some fiction in their minds – make it true?
    I’m glad I am confused. I like being confused. I am meant to be confused, I sense.
    I will not unconfuse you if I later become unconfused, as that WOULD be a spoiler.

  3. Chapter 3

    “Here in the pre-beginning, I only wanted to demonstrate how tricky this is and how tricky this could get.”

    Merry tentatively starts her hindsight pattern of memories, telling Rachel of her parents and older sister, Marjorie. This, I infer, is in the shadow of the subsequent on-line and televisual fame about what actually happened.
    But it is tricky for me, too, at my own pre-beginning of a review, as this is a book that makes thinking aloud dangerous. I started as I intended to continue,
    But I may have to change tack and review this book traditionally in one fell swoop after I have finished reading it. Or continue as I started, while carefully excising plot spoilers as they emerge, nipping them in the bud just before they escape into any onward real-time review that I manage to maintain. Textual Exegesis as Exorcism?
    If there is a long delay, you will know which of the two paths into this plot I chose.

  4. Chapter 4

    “Marjorie sensed the twitching and grinding in my head and started talking thirteen thousand miles per hour.”

    A new day. I have not yet looked back at what I wrote yesterday before going to bed early. This chapter sees Merry at 8 years old, narrated presumably by her older self to Rachel the author, telling of her made-up stories about floods of molasses (helped by the instinctive story-telling of 14 year old Marjorie), Merry’s cardboard house, her relationship with Marjorie, so utterly believable as younger-older sisters, with an impending sense of what happened later, I guess, subtly so, so subtle you may not even notice it. Not knowing what happened later in this house makes it very difficult to notice it. Beautifully done.
    The feel of this book’s pages made me think I was turning them while being a denizen of Merry’s cardboard house.

  5. Chapters 5 & 6

    You know, so far, this Merry, Marjorie, Dad (who seems to believe in Heaven) and Mum family reminds me slightly of the girl and her family in Danielewski’s ‘The Familiar’, although I know the latter and this book were published more or less at the same time. Spooky, perhaps. The family discussion about family discussions around the kitchen- (not dinner-)table and about Marjorie’s recent appointment is engaging and intriguing,
    Merry, the de facto narrator, meanwhile, seems to make all manner of things from cardboard as well as a house, like a laptop computer, giving me more clues about the earlier blog chronology, this being 15 years before that? Marjorie can get through doors without moving the booby traps left by her younger sister, it seems. But is her younger sister, now 15 years older, an Unreliable Narrator about when she was 8? A rhetorical question. Not one explicitly posed by the text itself.

  6. Chapter 7
    I know those growing smudges are perhaps as a result of some printing quirk on the book’s delightfully coarse paper, but they certainly blend in well with Marjorie’s new story for Merry about ‘growing things’ (reminding me of the classic Again, Dangerous Visions [inkspot] story by Gahan Wilson) but also of the smeary rain words in ‘The Familiar’. Spooky, indeed.
    The intentional style (beautifully couched) and tenor of this book grow, too, in spookiness, with also more telling references to Merry’s ‘head’.

    • An aside –
      Those following my trails closely may be interested in this connection described HERE about ‘A Choir of Ill Children’ that I have been concurrently reviewing alongside both this book and ‘Wylding Hall’. A trinity of reviews, as it’s panning out?

  7. Chapters 8, 9, 10 & 11

    “When I was a preschooler, I moved my mouth after I finished talking.”

    This seems to be happening with this book, its text being its ‘mouth’. We now enter inferential territory of Marjorie’s passive-aggression beginning to reach exponential levels of near-poltergeistery, exegesic exorcism, head of leaves, science versus religion, mother versus father, sister versus sister. Wickedly being cranked up. One can almost sense for real the accomplished page-turning quality. While we also gain more and more of the characters involved, their through times, their passtimes, their strengths and weaknesses. I feel sorry for Merry, while she feels for Marjorie.

  8. Chapters 12 & 13

    “Oh, Mom! I almost forgot. Tomorrow is hat day in school. I need to find a hat! What hat should I wear?”

    The older Merry continues her narration to Rachel the author in today’s version of the house of which she narrates. But are we reading Merry’s pure words or a Rachel rewritten version of them for her forthcoming book? I assume the latter because of the literary style, its traction of expression and ratiocination, leavened with family insights and jokes concerning spaghetti, hats etc. The text touches on a wink-wink satire regarding iconic elements from, say, the original version of The Exorcist that I watched in the cinema when it first came out OR it is the straight-up no-nonsense horror of actually what happened. It is that shimmering dichotomy that makes this text even more worrying, thus frightening as it reaches grinding levels of highly adult emotions.
    And then if you couple all that with Merry’s expressed extrapolation in this section of today’s re-enactment by actors of some of these now famous events, there is an even more layered texture that plays on the reader’s nerves…

  9. Chapter 14

    “…and who has since carved out a niche producing direct-to-video fantasy flicks that rip off J. K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin, J. R. R. Tolkien and other fantasy writers with initials in their names.”

    With C. S. Lewis actually WANTING to be ripped off to provide the Merry’s Father trope?

    This chapter is that ‘blog’ again or a draft of a blog (with ineffective redactions) using the old-fashioned Internet to ‘play’ with the dichotomy I predicted in my previous entry to this review. To exploit the re-enacted exploitation by Possession of Possession with Horror genre tropes and literary or filmic stereotypes or backstories, either to make this book by its freehold Tremblay author itself a fabrication of the imputed book already written or to be written by leasehold Rachel, or the retrocausal future re-enactment of it by this blog. My real-time reviews have often used the word ‘retrocausal’, and I have been mocked for so doing, mostly out of my hearing, but once in my hearing. This Tremblay book seems to be the book I was edging towards, a book radiating its own retrocausal influence on my reviewing techniques before I had read it, even, dare I say, before it had been written!

    “Yeah, it’s a BLOG! (How retro!)”

    • “Found-footage” of Found Art…?

      A cinema film re-enactment of a TV Reality fly-on-the-wall show? Or a re-enactment of real events that might not have happened without the fly-on-the-wall or the input of a fallible witness or an unreliable narrator?

      The lengths one can reach with such thinking aloud or brainstorming are frightening in themselves, whether genuinely ignited by this book or not.

  10. Chapter 15

    “You’re not writing fiction with this book, correct?”

    That’s Merry speaking to Rachel, as she is now interviewed in her own home. I have decided that I may have met my match with this book being, so far, counteractive towards its being real-time reviewed. I may end up having to tell lies about details of my reading of it, but I hope to avoid that necessity. Being economical with the truth is hopefully the limit.
    No ineffective redactions from ME! Every exorcism of facts a complete exorcism.
    Merry’s adult home – 15 years after the original Possession events when she was 8 – contains items in direct interface with those events, like bingeing on the things you want to avoid. Repulse therapy. Including Merry’s work activities and the colours of her rooms and the types of books she collects. In fact she collects the hard copy and ebook of every work, for some reason.
    Also, I note the implication that both Merry and Rachel are aware of how the actual existence of a recording device for preserving this interview for Rachel’s book has some inscrutable effect on what is said IN that interview?

  11. Chapter 16

    “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear such a big secret. It might not fit in my head and then it would spill out everywhere.”

    I also have a sort of secret.
    I have been a long term fan of the Big Brother Reality TV Show in the UK, and I have, since 2004, been writing forum commentaries on it on-line (the place where, inter alia, Marjorie seems to tap into, the Internet?) and I have also references to this show in my novella Weirdtongue and novel Nemonymous Night.
    ‘The TV People’, as described or personified in this book, remind me of the TV people kitting out and then filming the Big Brother house to accommodate the housemates competing for a Tontine money prize. Here, in this book, the housemates are not only incipient re-enactment actors preparing to act out the family members as housemates in elements of the Possession of one of them but eventually the family itself will become similar housemates in the house where they always live.
    Meanwhile, the scene with Marjorie in the basement that Merry tells us about ((via Rachel?) via Tremblay?) is compulsive reading, including Marjorie’s secret intentions, game plans, role-playing, cardboard house moving, plus paternal religio-remunerative motivations as well as perhaps face-to-face nomination and eventual exorciso-eviction?

  12. Chapter 17

    “I asked him,’Would you rather have legs the size of fingers or fingers the size of legs?'”

    Would you rather have ‘creepy’ things in the sense that eight year old Merry (too young to see the TV show in which she appears) uses the word ‘creepy’ or creepy things that are REALLY Creepy? This question is seminal to all horror, ghost story and other scary art. And this book poses this question, I guess, and, dare I say, it also effectively presents BOTH those senses of creepy and Creepy FOR REAL.
    Meanwhile, there is an element of the Big Brother Diary Room in this TV show’s ‘confessional room’ that Merry is prevented from using too much. She is given a surreptitious webcam all of her own, and there is an intriguing feel of cameras filming cameras.
    I continue in this review to be economical with the truth. Or eclectic. But never lying. Never catholic like the freehold author. Never Catholic, like Merry’s Dad. I am discreet and discrete. Sometimes, however, I ‘shout’ in upper case letters. The book makes you like that.

  13. Chapters 18 & 19

    “…like someone was trying to scribble her out, as though she were a mistake.”

    Scratches as religious stigmata or ineffective redactions?
    The page-turning slow-motion urgency turns dab upon dab of coarse rough-cut paper.
    Merry sometimes lets the guard slip about her writing this as an adult while making pretence of being the 8 year old. She is told she is some form of catalyst for Marjorie’s faked and/or real, creepy or Creepy, demon (my words, not the book’s). I sometimes wonder if the reader is the catalyst, with things happening only because it is being read by the reader? You see, I recognise the name of the doctor who accompanies Father Wanderly for the trial exorcism, a name from another book – I also know the author’s name to whom Marjorie is said to indirectly refer in her demonic ‘act’.
    The act by Marjorie, if it is an act, is very convincingly done, with all the knowledge of Vatican politics etc that she mouths, as is the conflict between the scientifically catholic Mum and the constrictively Catholic Dad.
    Between the Mercy and the Mercenary (my words, not the book’s).
    Between the Reality and the Fabricated, whether deliberate or not, role-played or deeply felt.
    Between the (Internet, TV) publicity and once traditional family privacy, caught in a new conflict – even more vicious than that between God and the Devil?
    This book compels such entertainingly agonising thoughts, certainly in this particular potential two-way catalyst of a reader that is me. It may also compel without such agonising, simply because it simply compels as all good stories like this one do.

  14. Chapters 20 & 21

    “…and the only way to keep from crashing, to parse any of it, is to artificially slow everything down.”

    A computer image of her own memory by a dual Merry old and young as she also remembers within her text of her Dad speeding up his prayers, as the time for the actual Exorcism approaches, with much tense prelude involving the holy protesters outside the house, the TV people getting cameras and boom mics ready, and stage fright, as it were, from the main protagonists.
    Dad even failed to rake the autumn leaves in the yard because he thought they looked cinematic for the cameras! The family and TV people have a Chinese takeaway just before the Exorcism, and Merry associates one of the sauces as a future associative recall of the whole experience, an experience yet to be had in real-time.
    I will just have two further thoughts before my nervously reading, tomorrow or another day, about the Exorcism itself:
    Those who have a deep Christian belief to such an extent that they believe in the efficacy of a formal ritual like an Exorcism, surely they must be possessed by something or other to put that belief into their heads in the first place? But that is just me.
    Merry is a big fan of Bigfoot on the TV as well as being an energetic little girl who plays soccer. An objective correlative of foot to match those of the head?

  15. Chapter 22

    “The rest of us followed.”

    I am GLAD I left this scene for the bright sunny morning, instead of reading it just before I went to bed last night.

    “Father Wanderly nearly shouted his prayers, and Dad eagerly shouted back the responses.”

    The dousing by holy water is, for me, like the rain in ‘The Familiar’ and all its smeary words on the page. Its ellipses, too. At the centre of bubbling infinity?

    “…’Are you scared and confused like I am?'”

    There is a reference in this scene to ‘spaghetti’, as an objective correlative, now gory, to echo the earlier references.

    “…everyone was wrong about everything.”

    Some very powerful writing by Tremblay describes this scene. But can a fiction author be possessed, even deceived, by his or her own created character or characters? I can say no more. Sparing with the unspoilt truth.

  16. Chapter 23

    “From the gooey gory midnight show cheese to the highfalutin’ art-house highbrow. Beware of spoilers. I WILL SPOIL YOU!!!!!”

    Indeed, the blog arguably describes this book neatly there. Except for the spoilers. This is a wonderful-to-read ‘deconstruction’ of the ‘creeptastic’ scene in the previous chapter, the scene now shot and edited and interpreted by the eclectic, non-catholic cameras, including Merry’s own webcam, I guess. A famous talked-about ‘reality’ show of found footage and stylised use of cuts and filmic redactions. But this blog text and what it means is far more than what I have just described. It represents an arguably insider’s description of the house, not with this book’s coarse leaves, but with infinite electronic landings and hallways and doors, beyond the captcha codes, or so I infer.
    The genre references and techniques are those of satire, its inner truth, however, being (de)constructed from an utterly frightening Thing.

    BEFORE resuming my reading this morning with the previous chapter, I wrote the following on my Facebook page with a link to this real-time review:
    If you like The Exorcist, House of Leaves, HPL, good writing and satire, you’ll love this scary book…”
    I hold by that, and there are still three more chapters to read!
    (Being on Facebook is like having one’s head house many things and the ghosts that spout those things.)

  17. Chapters 24, 25 & 26

    “But I think it’s good to be afraid. It means that I’m alive.”

    “I’d draw some pictures of soccer balls, the backyard full of leaves,…”

    These chapters form a seeming coda for this enthrallingly passive-aggressive book, but it is a coda that delivers another shocking kick, as Merry rounds off her ‘story’ for Rachel. I should say no more about this book, should I?

    Allow me only this.
    A retro-blog of an aside about the figure of Merry’s protagonistic Father.
    I mentioned CS Lewis (a name that sort of rhymes with my own initialised name) and I did not gather then why I chose to mention this name. I still don’t fully understand why I did that, but there seems, to me at least, some link between the House to Narnia and Aslan and this House of Pages, especially when we read in this coda:
    “Up against the back wall of the basement, next to the shelves of food there was the giant pewter cross that had briefly hung on the wall in Marjorie’s room.”

    A trembly, scarry book. Honestly needs to be read by those who will enjoy it,

    “…and watch the unrelenting rain fall.”


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