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A Head Full of Ghosts

Narrated by: Joy Osmanski
Length: 8 hrs and 49 mins
4 out of 5 stars (2,131 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

A chilling thriller that brilliantly blends domestic drama, psychological suspense, and a touch of modern horror, reminiscent of Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, John Ajvide Lindqvist's Let the Right One In, and Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when 14-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents' despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie's descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts' plight. With John, Marjorie's father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later a best-selling writer interviews Marjorie's younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long-ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface - and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.

©2015 Paul Tremblay (P)2015 HarperCollins Publishers

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Page turner

I am a horror fan and am pretty immune to the scary story. I pride myself of predicting the oncoming action as the story unfolds. I didn't even try with this story. It sucked me in, chewed me up and spit me out. Not leaving me with screams in the night but with a cold hollow in the pit of my stomach. Excellent!

40 of 41 people found this review helpful

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So much better than expected

With what seemed like a flippant title, I anticipated another frilly, silly ghostly cozy. I don't remember when I bought this book, but I found it in my library and it felt like a safe escape following several non-fiction books about the Trump administration. I am a little paranoid about spoilers, so I didn't go back and read any reviews or the synopsis of the story.

Within the first half hour I had chills running up and down my spine. I'm REALLY tough to scare, but the plaintive young woman reading this first person, dual-perspective novel definitely got to me. I don't want to do any spoilers, either, but I will say that, like the very best of all horror, this is a multi-layered novel, with pretty well defined characters and as many psychological terrors as supernatural ones.

The writing is excellent, vivid and witty when it needs to be. There is a great deal of humor, and I was struck by the ability of the male author to write from the perspective of a genuine 8-year old girl. His female characters are very real, so, kudos, Paul Tremblay.

I just read that this book has been optioned by Robert Downey, Jr for a film. Okaaaaay, as my daughter would say, but I don't know. This is one of the rare cases where I believe the audiobook is the BEST version of this novel. Narrator Joy Osmanski's vivacious, youthful, eloquent and -- oh, damn, I need to say PLAINTIVE again - voice is the perfect vehicle to ride this story home.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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A great read, very psychologically disturbing...

I actually read this after Stephen King spoke so highly of it in an article. I can see why he did. Part Exorcist, part Amityville Horror, and part something altogether its own. A very unique take on the old "girl possessed by demon" story with several twists and surprises that will leave you with QUITE a few questions. The narrator does a fine job as well.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Good Read

This book was suggested to me by a friend and I really enjoyed it up until the last few chapters, the ending left much to be desired for me but all in all a good read.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Unexpected!

I was worried about listening to this, late at night. It seemed too scary. I was surprised to find that it didn't bother me at all. It's a great story about family bonds, sisterhood, the corruption of the church, fanaticism and reality tv. Great story, great ending. Can't recommend it enough!!

19 of 21 people found this review helpful

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Good story, hard to listen

While the story pulled me in and kept me entertained, the narration was a little rough at times, especially the attempts at male voices, the dad in particular made me cringe every time I heard it.

18 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • Jennifer
  • minneapolis, MN, United States
  • 10-30-16

A page turner, but not scary

The last time I downloaded a book that Stephen King found scary it was called, 'The Troop' and it was truly horrifying. 'A head full of Ghosts', which he claimed, 'scared the living hell out of (him)' wasn't scary, at least it wasn't my idea of scary. It was however, a really easy listen and I love a good page turner. It was a unique, modern-day take on the classic possession trope and it was bold and creative in where it took this story. There's a good twist in this plot and I liked this book a lot overall. It just wasn't scary.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Wow. So glad I took a chance on this.

Let me just take a minute to say that again. Wow.

Okay, so I don't usually read (or watch, or listen to) horror. And by "not usually", I mean basically never. Sure, I've read Stephen King, and I've seen the horror movies that "everyone" has seen like The Ring and Psycho and The Exorcist and so on, but generally I avoid the genre entirely because I find cheap jump scares and gore and so on really distasteful and don't want to spend the time sifting the creepy psychological horror from the half-hearted jumble of scary cliches horror. But this book popped up on my Amazon recommendations, and the high reviews and sentence in the description about mind-bending blurs between memory and reality and so on convinced me to give it a shot. To be honest, a comparison to House of Leaves, my all-time favorite book, was what ultimately sold me. I love nested framed stories and possibly unreliable narrators and all that stuff.

This was excellent. The descriptions of eight-year-old Merry was some of the best characterizations I've ever read. I feel like I grew up knowing her, and should reach out to her on social media to see how she's doing. At first I was slightly let down by how the "scary" parts weren't all that scary, but the self-aware bits of the writing quickly showed that I had been trying to take too much at face value. The entire book is the scary part, not just the scenes of the in-book fictional documentary that would be accompanied by creepy sound effects and harsh lighting.The more you learn about the Barrett family, the less clear things get, and each twist and turn is masterfully handled.

While there were certainly scary parts, this is not a story about a scary possession. This is a scary story about a story about a possession, and on those grounds I can't recommend it highly enough. You know how Cabin in the Woods did such a good job deconstructing horror cliches to turn them into a hilarious drama? This did a similarly good job deconstructing horror cliches and turning them into something much more subtle but equally horrific.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • M
  • 08-05-15

Creepy

Brutally awful Dad voice. Took me out of the story every time. I didn't read anything about this first so I didn't realize it was a creepy book. Better than I would have thought!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Super Smart and Creepy as...

You won't know what hit you, but whatever it was will leave goosebumps. Smart storytelling, with nods to classic possession stories in book and movie form, and a mystery that resonates and means more than the blurb would suggest. Good stuff, and highly recommended for a well-rounded scary tale. (The narrator, by the way, was fantastic. Grade A performance.)

13 of 16 people found this review helpful