Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Mini Reviews: A Head Full Of Ghosts || Grief Is The Thing With Feathers














A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay



Pages: 284
Genre: Adult Horror
Publication Date: June 2015

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-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 bestselling 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.


The Good: I appreciate that the author is trying to tell a unique exorcism story. There isn’t much that can be done with the exorcism genre that hasn’t been done before. All the stories are pretty much the same. This story centers on Merry, who is eight years old when her sister becomes possessed (or mentally ill, it’s not really clear). Since Merry is a kid, her parents keep her at the fringes of everything that’s happening. She knows that her sister is sick, and she knows that there’s a TV crew in her house to make a show about it, but she’s still in her own child-world. She often cares more about soccer games and watching Finding Bigfoot than about her sister’s demon possession. It’s an unusual way to tell an exorcism story.

In the present-day part of the novel, Merry is a young adult who is trying to figure out what really happened to her sister. Was Marjorie actually possessed? Was she schizophrenic? Was she faking it to get on TV and help solve her parents’ financial problems? As a reader, I enjoyed uncovering the truth with Merry.


“To be honest, and all the external influences aside, there are some parts of this that I remember in great, terrible detail, so much so I fear getting lost in the labyrinth of memory. There are other parts of this that remain as unclear and unknowable as someone else’s mind, and I fear that in my head I’ve likely conflated and compressed timelines and events.” – A Head Full of Ghosts



The Bad: I know that this is a black sheep opinion, but I didn’t like this book. I found Merry annoying. Since she’s a kid, we get to watch her playing games and badgering the TV crew. She’s probably the least-interesting character involved in this situation. Sometimes I wanted to see the possession stuff that was happening, but we’re stuck with Merry and her kid games.

We mostly get to know adult Merry through her blog posts. In them, she critiques the horror genre and analyzes the reality show that her family participated in. It’s very meta. The book is basically criticizing itself. The blog posts are so long that they pulled me out of the story. Merry’s “voice” in the posts is irritating. She’s basically writing academic essays, but there are a lot of uninteresting personal asides in them. There’s a reason that real-life blog posts are rarely over 1000 words. Bloggers are irritating people. (I can say that because I am one.) Bloggers are best in small doses. Trust me.

Then, there’s the ending. I like that I didn’t predict the twists, but I also didn’t believe them. The characters (especially the father and Marjorie) aren’t developed well enough for me to accept that ending. My reaction when I finished the book was “Um . . . okay? I guess it’s over?”



The Bottom Line: Too meta for my tastes. I would have liked it more if it had been told from a different character’s point-of-view. I wasn’t interested in Merry’s life.














Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter



Pages: 128
Genre: Prose Poetry
Publication Date: August 2015

In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother's sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness.

In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow—antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This self-described sentimental bird is attracted to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months and physical pain of loss gives way to memories, this little unit of three begin to heal.


The Good: This quick read is perfect for people who love intertextuality. The title is a modified Emily Dickinson quote. The father in the story is a Ted Hughes scholar. It’s fun to spot all the references to other books. After the death of his wife, the father lets his research consume him. That’s when Ted Hughes’s character, Crow, enters his life and starts messing with his family. Crow is a personification of grief. He does awful things, like tricking the kids into thinking they can bring their mother back to life. You don’t have to be familiar with Crow by Ted Hughes to understand this book, but it probably helps.

The author captures grief perfectly. Parts of this book are way too relatable. I love the poems written from the father and sons’ points-of-view. It’s especially heartbreaking to see the kids acting out while their father mostly ignores them.


“I missed her so much that I wanted to build a hundred-foot memorial to her with my bare hands. I wanted to see her sitting in a vast stone chair in Hyde Park, enjoying her view. Everybody passing could comprehend how much I miss her. How physical my missing is.” – Grief is the Thing with Feathers



The Bad: Poetry and I will never be friends. Some parts of this book are just too abstract for me to appreciate. It reminds me why I don’t like Ted Hughes’s Crow. For me, Crow is mostly just weirdness written in an angry way. Crow—the character—is one of the point-of-view characters in Grief is the Thing with Feathers, which I didn’t know before I started it. I’m not a fan of the poems written from his POV. They’re more angry weirdness, just like the original.



The Bottom Line: I love two of the POVs and hate the third, but I think this book would be perfect for fans of Ted Hughes.  







26 comments:

  1. I think poetry is best consumed by listening... I often buy books from those doing readings and it seems as if I can hear their books in my head when I read it later.

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    1. I agree. I’ve gone to a lot of poetry readings. I often like hearing the poems more than I like reading them.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. With A Head Full of Ghosts it seems like the concept was interesting enough, but not so much the execution. Maybe using Merry as the protagonist was not the way to go. Meh.
    Tanya @ Girl Plus Books
    Http://girlplusbooks.blogspot.com

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    1. Exactly. I like the plot, but the character ruined it for me.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. I think I'll pass on both. They both sound like they have a lot of potential but between unlikable MCs and poetry I don't think either are right for me!

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    1. Yep. Lots of potential, but both of them fell a little flat for me.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. I'd been wondering about A Head Full of Ghosts, so I'm actually really glad to see your review that isn't as fond of it as others. It definitely sounds like it has some issues, so maybe I'll just pass on that one for now. I've seen Grief is the Thing With Feathers around, but never knew much about it--sounds like an interesting one, I'm intrigued but skeptical, haha. Great reviews!

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    1. A Head Full of Ghosts has so many good reviews. I think my review is the first less-than-awesome one I’ve seen. If you read it, I hope you like it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. A Head Full of Ghosts sounds like a really interesting premise, too bad the execution didn't live up to it! I think the POV from the 8 year old would have bothered me, too.

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    1. Yeah, I understand why the author chose that POV, but it didn’t work for me. Eight-year-olds are too self-absorbed. I felt like I was missing the most interesting parts of the story.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  6. Yeah, interesting choice for sure having the story be from the sister's POV, but I can see why that wouldn't be as interesting because... siblings don't care about what the others are doing? Especially as a kid, we're all pretty self absorbed, so... I feel like it'd be all the pages of Merry being salty that her sister got attention or something ha.

    As for the second one, I cannot do poetry at all, so I'd be out. Now I must go find spoilers about what the deal with Merry's sister was :D Great reviews!

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    1. Exactly! Siblings don’t care what the other kids are doing. Merry cares more about soccer and making videos than about her sister’s possession. Unfortunately, I don’t care about soccer or videos. I want to see the possession.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  7. It is a shame about Merry because I like the premise. As for poetry I enjoy it, but not like this.

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    1. YES! The premise is so good! I just couldn’t stand the character.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  8. Hmmm. Thank you for reviewing and for the "warning"; I don't think either of these books is for me. The premise of the first book is intriguing but not my cup of tea, and it sounds like the book doesn't live up to its potential. And from your description of Grief Is the Thing With Feathers, I would find parts of the book baffling (not being familiar with Ted Hughes's Crow) and parts heartbreaking or disturbing... which isn't why I read, or at least, isn't what I read for fun.

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    1. If you don’t like disturbing or depressing books, you should probably avoid both of these.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  9. I feel the same about poetry, but I am trying my best to get into it and Grief Is the Thing with Feathers sounds interesting, but also a bit scary because poetry!

    As for the exorcism book... I do not think I read any so I am totally unfamiliar with the tropes unless I use my film knowledge from the only two exorcism films I know.

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    1. I try really hard with poetry, but sometimes I just don’t understand what I’m supposed to be getting out of reading it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  10. The premise behind seeing an family event from a younger perspective seemed intriguing. Yet memories are a tricky thing. We all have sat around reminiscing about a particular event and come to realize no one remembered it same as you. I had high hopes.
    As for the second book, poetry is not my thing. But grief from three POV?! An idea worth reading and exploring. Thanks for the reviews and opinion. ♥️

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    1. Both of the books have very interesting concepts. The execution just didn’t work out perfectly for me.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  11. This is the first I've heard of A Head Full of Ghosts and it really sounds right up my alley! I'm sad to see that you didn't love it. Now I'm debating whether to add it to my TBR list! I'm not really sure about the way it seems to be written. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. A Head Full of Ghosts has amazing reviews on Goodreads, so maybe you’ll like it more than I did.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  12. I don't think that I will ever be friends with poetry either. I have a copy of A Head Full of Ghosts and hope that I end up liking it more than you did. Great reviews!

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  13. I thought the Paul Tremblay book had potential but Merry doesn't sound like a character that would keep me engaged in the book :(

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  14. I had not heard of the first book, but what a fabulous premise; too bad it fell flat. I think I have Grief is the Thing with Feathers on my Goodreads looks-interesting shelf (not quite sure I want to-read shelf). I had no idea it involved a lot of poetry and poetry is not my thing, either. Thanks for the heads up on both of these. 📚

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