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June 3, 2015

Book Notes - Paul Tremblay "A Head Full of Ghosts"

A Head Full of Ghosts

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts is a powerfully unsettling work of literary horror that has already earned numerous comparisons to the works of Shirley Jackson.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Tremblay paints a believable portrait of a family in extremis emotionally as it attempts to cope with the unthinkable, but at the same time he slyly suggests that in a culture where the wall between reality and acting has eroded, even the make believe might seem credible. Whether psychological or supernatural, this is a work of deviously subtle horror."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Paul Tremblay's Book Notes music playlist for his novel A Head Full of Ghosts:

A Head Full of Ghosts is my postmodern, secular, exorcism novel. Yeah. As I tried to do with my previous detective novels (The Little Sleep and No Sleep Till Wonderland), I wanted to simultaneously embrace and play with genre expectations, and hopefully the result is a creepy, disturbing, and surprising read.

Without giving too much away…. 14 year old Marjorie Barrett is either suffering from acute schizophrenia or she is possessed. The story is told by her younger sister Merry. Merry is recounting the story to a best-selling author 15 years after she and her family were the stars of a reality show called The Possession. Yeah, I suck at summaries…

Anyway, I approached the possession story through a non-believer's or skeptic's lens, which I thought was something most possession tales, particularly Hollywood flicks, don't do: usually it's the religious men-folk saving the day or night. I wanted the interventions the priest and other adults to ultimately make everything worse, and have the most horrific aspects of the novel not be the maybe-supernatural parts but the realistic ones. At the same time, I embraced all the possession horror movies and stories that have filled my own head and informed the novel. There are parts of the book that actually deconstruct and compare what's happening in the novel to the possession and horror stories that have come before it. So all of that thrown together hopefully helps keep the is-she-possessed-is-she-having-a-psychotic-break tension going throughout the novel.

The playlist below follows the structure of story. Don't be afraid.


"An Idiot's Idea of Ireland," Future of the Left:

"My memory, she was first to the plank, and the B-movie played in the aisle."

"My Head Is Full of Ghosts," Bad Religion:

"Do you wanna know a secret? Will you hold it close and dear? This will not be made apparent, but you and I are not alone in here."


"Come & See," Protomartyr:

"Let it snow and face them in their minds / Count their money with broken arms / Come as friends, are you ready to be capitalized / In this town, in this hole?"

"Burn Girl Prom Queen" Mogwai

"Suburbia" Neighborhood Brats:

"A generation of girls locked in the dark."

"Me Jane" PJ Harvey:

"Don't lord it on me, good lord it's on me."

"Fearless Vampire Killers," Bad Brains:

"The bourgeoisie had better watch out for me."

"Where is My Mind?" The Pixies:

"Your head will collapse if there's nothing in it."

"Stranger at the Window" Damon Albarn/Michael Nyman—Ravenous movie soundtrack

"Dropping like Flies," Firewater:

"And you cry, trying to find a voice that reminds you of your own."

"9Volt," man or astroman?:

"Don't touch me again with your 9-volt tongue."

"Gloomy Sunday," Billie Holliday:

"Death is no dream / for in death I'm caressing you / With the last breath of my
soul / I'll be blessing you"

"Rats," Metz:

"You don't know what it is / You can't find it / You've been hearing a sound / Crawling around in your mind"

"Disco Six Six Six," Girls Against Boys:

"Maybe I'm obsessive / Maybe I'm addictive / The number of your kicks is / Strictly 666"

"Rosemary's Baby" Fantomas


"Information Overload," Living Colour:

"Sometimes I feel like my mind will explode. Sometimes I feel like I've got no control."

"Copy A" Nine Inch Nails:

"I am just a copy of a copy of a copy. Everything I say has come before."

"Long Division," Fugazi:

"We lay in pieces, cracked to survive. I'm not your villain, not your adversary. I'm not your reason to crack and divide."

"Stormy Weather," Nina Nastasia:

"She comes running in/ ‘We're all on fire,' she says so hysterically"

"List of Demands," Saul Williams:

"You got me on my knees praying for everything you lack. I ain't afraid of you. I'm just a victim of your fear. You cower in your tower praying that I'll disappear."

"Haunted," Poe:

"I'm haunted by the lives that wove the web inside my haunted head."

"Keep it Together," How to Destroy Angels:

"He has a message waiting for me but I don't wanna hear. I promise, I swear, I cannot keep it together. I cannot keep it together."

"Lay it down," Magnapop:

"You know there's something there and it's tearing away at the part that kills your faith, the part that kills your faith."

"JC Auto," Sugar:

"I can't believe in anything. I don't believe in anything. Do you believe in anything? Do you believe me now?"

"Dull Life," Yeah Yeah Yeahs:

"We've seen the nightmare of the lies that you speak. The beast that I lie beneath is coming in."

"Stigmata," Ministry:

"I'm chewing on glass and eating my fingers. I'm not the one who's run out of lies, lies."

"Compassion," Lustmord


"Stanley Kubrick," Mogwai

"Late Night" Nina Nastasia and Jim White:

"It's your life to make a wreck. We grew up together. Did you forget?"

"Shoe Song," Shellac:

"Smash my skull on the sidewalk...with the truth. I don't remember the last time I didn't know.
And I miss you. I miss you."

"Lunacy," Swans:

"Innocence / Not innocent / Innocent / In the sense / Eat the beast / Keep him in / Take the blame / Speak the name"

"Heathen Child," Grinderman:

"She got a little powder. She got a little gun. She got a little poison. Got a little gun. Sitting in the bathtub sucking her thumb."

"No Below," Speedy Ortiz:

"You didn't know me, but you got cold, too."

You can find most of these songs on this Spotify playlist:

Paul Tremblay and A Head Full of Ghosts links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
New York Times review
NPR Books review
Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for In the Mean Time
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Little Sleep
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for No Sleep till Wonderland
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Swallowing a Donkey's Eye
LitReactor interview with the author
My Bookish Ways interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

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