source: free copy via Amazon Prime membership
title: The Exorcist
author: William Peter Blatty
genre: classic horror/paranormal horror
first line: The blaze of the sun wrung pops of sweat from the old man’s brow, yet he cupped his hands around the glass of hot sweet tea as if to warm them.
rated: 5 out of 5 stars for horror with heart
Originally published in 1971, The Exorcist, one of the most controversial novels ever written, went on to become a literary phenomenon: It spent fifty-seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, seventeen consecutively at number one. Inspired by a true story of a child’s demonic possession in the 1940s, William Peter Blatty created an iconic novel that focuses on Regan, the eleven-year-old daughter of a movie actress residing in Washington, D.C. A small group of overwhelmed yet determined individuals must rescue Regan from her unspeakable fate, and the drama that ensues is gripping and unfailingly terrifying.
I have wanted to read The Exorcist for a while and I finally got the nerve to. I also wanted to make sure I read it fast which I did, so I wasn’t dwelling on it too much. I finished it in less than a week. What I found on reading this one is that it was terrifying yes, but also full of almost poetic writing with a well-developed plot and with characters that you root for. It is essentially a story about good vs. evil. The book is pretty much the same as the film but it has more heart.
I tend to become easily immersed in the books that I read so this was a scary experience for me but ironically The Exorcist has become a new favorite horror novel. It is easily the scariest book I have ever read. I have been jumpy all week and scared of my own shadow. I don’t know when I will be able to go down to the basement again when I am home alone. Or how I will even agree to being left home alone now but I digress.
As the story starts off famous actress and single mom Chris MacNeil lives with her daughter Regan in Washington D.C. They have a live in housekeeper and cook and a tutor for Regan. Regan has been playing with a Ouija board and has been getting slightly obsessed with it and soon Chris finds her talking to an imaginary friend. Chris is a good mom, I liked that about her character. She has guilt over her divorce and over Regan’s absentee father. She believes Regan’s imaginary friend is a result of the divorce.
Soon however Regan begins to act stranger and Chris starts hearing noises from her daughter’s bedroom. Regan tells her mom that she’s afraid of her imaginary friend now. Regan’s mental state starts to go downhill pretty quickly, she becomes moody and has been cursing alot and the strange noises continue from her bedroom. Chris sees her daughter’s bed shaking violently one night. She takes her daughter to different doctors who administer several tests on her trying to figure out what the matter is. They all seem to think it’s anything from multiple personality disorder or a brain tumor or schizophrenia. It’s a mystery. They even say telekinesis is possible with teens who are mentally ill. Hence the bed shaking and moving of furniture.
At her wit’s end and fearing that her daughter will have to be institutionalized Chris contacts Father Damien Karras who is also a psychiatrist. Much of the story then goes into Father Karras trying to figure out what is wrong with Regan. He has lost his faith so he doesn’t believe she is actually possessed. He thinks since Regan read a book on witchcraft and devil worship that her mom had at home, she put these thoughts into her subconscious and is acting them out. Being a psychiatrist he was trying to diagnose her with his background as a doctor and not as a priest . I did have to skim some of parts mainly when Karras was researching satanic rituals as it became too graphic and disturbing.
Meanwhile Regan’s health is rapidly deteriorating. She has a feeding tube, she is awake for hours on end, she has to be strapped to her bed, they give her high doses of Librium to keep her sedated, but it doesn’t work. Finally the Catholic church sends an experienced Father Merrin to perform the exorcism so Father Karras can be his helper.
Even when he asks for approval from the church for the exorcism Father Karras is thinking of it as a way to mentally persuade Regan that she is cured. He is in denial until pretty far into it although in his heart he knows it is really demonic possession.
I recognized this scene from the iconic film poster of the priest standing under the streetlight:
He paid the driver, then turned and stood motionless under a misty streetlamp’s glow, staring up at the window of the house like a melancholy traveler frozen in time.
p.317, The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
When the priests were getting ready to perform the ritual and help Regan, I couldn’t help but cheer for them. The book then culminates into a terrifying and intense last few chapters. The exorcism takes a few days and it is an all out battle between good and evil and a race against time to save Regan’s life.
The ending was heart wrenching and slightly different from the film but in such a great way because it was full of emotion and hope. Father Karras was a favorite character and a hero.
I’ll close with a few more favorite snippets, the writing was fantastic.
“He was seeking a knowledge he must clutch by the heart.” -p. 287
“Incidentally, what an excellent day for an exorcism.”- p. 251
He still did not dare to believe. Not his mind but his heart had tugged him to this moment: pity and the hope for a cure through suggestion.
“You would want to do the exorcism yourself?”
Karras felt elation; saw the door swinging open to fields, to escape from the crushing weight of caring and that meeting each twilight with the ghost of his faith. And yet, “Yes, Your Grace,” he answered.
“And yet even from this-from evil-there will finally come good in some way; in some way that we may never understand or even see.” Merrin paused. “Perhaps evil is the crucible of goodness,” he brooded. “And perhaps even Satan- Satan, in spite of himself- somehow serves to work out the will of God .”- p.346
The Exorcist is a new favorite horror novel and I am glad I was finally brave enough to read it. It was an intense and terrifying story about good overcoming evil and also about faith.
Also, moral of the story, do not play with Ouija boards people.
disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive any kind of compensation for reading and reviewing this book. I am under no obligation to write a positive review. I received a free The Exorcist through my Amazon Prime membership. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.