Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay, is a heck of a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Initially, I chose the book for three reasons: 1) Because it had won the Bram Stoker Award, 2) Because Stephen King had praised the novel (though King's recommendations are not always reliable), and 3) Because I didn't see anything that looked more interesting at the time.

The novel starts out as a fairly common story of demonic possession, but with a twist, in that this possession and exorcism will be televised as a reality show. Which injects a number of interesting questions into the narrative, leaving the reader, ultimately, to decide upon the answers. How much of what is going on has been engineered by the filming crew and director? How much has the eye of the camera influenced our impression of what is happening? It is clear, of course, that the viewing audience wants to see a bonafide possession and exorcism, and it is clear that the consumer in general will bring some fairly certain expectations to the subject, familiar as we are with the entire genre of possession literature and film. We expect events to unfold according to the usual plot, to include vomiting, levitating, flying furniture, eerie voices, foul language and so on.

Here is the classic young teenage girl, Marjorie, who definitely has a problem -- but is she possessed, or mentally ill, or merely calculating and manipulative? Who are we to believe -- the religious father and his pastor, who determine, together, that an exorcism is needed; the mother, who does not believe in such things but must admit at the same time that the psychiatric and medicinal approach has been an abject failure; Marjorie herself, who tells her younger sister that the whole thing is a purposeful pretense meant to help her parents, whom, she says, are the truly sick ones; or, indeed, the reality show which purports to merely document what is happening?

Furthermore, what do we, as individuals, want to believe? Does it suit us to accept the possibility of demonic possession, or is the more scientific seeming state of psychosis more comforting somehow? Can we believe that a 14 year-old girl is capable of murderous intent, without suspecting the presence of a supernaturally evil influence?

The story is told throughout from the perspective of the younger sister, injecting yet a further remove, in that the people, events and relationships are being filtered through the comprehension of an 8 year-old.

All-in-all, it's an interesting, complex pyramid of ideas, perplexing, unsettling, engaging.

In short, I rather liked this novel.

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