William Peter Blatty - The Exorcist

Genre: Psychological/Horror/Supernatural
Synopsis: Father Damien Karras: 'Where is Regan'. Regan MacNeil: 'In here. With us'. The terror begins unobtrusively. Noises in Regan's room, an odd smell, the displacement of furniture, an icy chill. Easy explanations are offered. Then frightening changes start in the eleven-year-old girl. Medical tests shed no light on her symptoms, but it is as if a different personality has invaded the child. Father Damien Karras, a Jesuit priest, is called in. Is it possible that a demonic force is present in the child? Exorcism is the only answer...


Review: The Exorcist is a book which will come heavily laden with preconceptions to any reader. Perhaps the only people who would have been fortunate enough to be spared the associations made with the movie, would be those who read in in those short years before it became a movie. I tried to approach this book without any preconceptions, but the movie being that which, aruguably traumatised me as a child, I found it difficult. Having said that, I'm very happy I read the book.

The book is nothing like the movie, that's the most notable fact. What the movie did was, take the most graphic scenes in the book and turn it into a horror movie - granted it portrayed these signature scenes almost down to the letter, but that it truly not what the book is about - it is not about any real kind of horror. Certainly not the visual horror the movie created, as it is, of course, a book. Don't misinterpret this as criticizing the film adaption - artistic licence is of course allowed and it was very well used in the case of this movie. But I think it's a shame such associations as are, get associated with the book too.

The book, if horrible in any way, is psychologically based. It focuses more on father Damien Karras than the movie does, and creates a more in-depth picture of the person having trouble with his faith. While Regan is very much the centerpiece of the movie, Karras and Regan balance well in the novel. Much of what is disturbing in the book is what you don't see or hear. One downside to the otherwise pretty good characterisation is that of Father Merrin's role. He is there at the start, he is there at the end, and he is probably the most commanding presence in the book - but for 90% of the book he just isn't there! The author made a big mistake in leaving him out so much, because he really does carry the book towards the end. Unfortunately, in the absence of this character the writing is rather bland and at times it was difficult to continue - had I not already known the story I may well have given up.

Additionally, the book is well informed in a way that could not possibly have come across in the movie - the author's research or general awareness of medical conditions, treatments, and psychology is impressive, especially considering the time. The horror of the book lies not in just how horrifying the make up artist can make the girl's face, but rather in the long-winded realisation that maybe, it's not just a psychological illness. The majority of the book is spent trying to scientifically explain Regan's condition, and perhaps the best element of the story is that it is never truly revealed whether it was true possession or not. It is inconclusive and the book is indecisive, leaving it entirely to the reader to decide. It would have been very exciting to read this book without any connotations inspired by the movie, but unfortunately for most people these days, that simply isn't going to be possible. Having said that, I would recommend this book to fans of the movie, or people who believe the story is gratuitious horror. The book applies a depth of psychology and characterisation that reduces the horror and increases the intrigue of what was originally quite a well constructed idea.

Rating: 3/5

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