The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty

Nine stars

WIlliam Peter Blatty’s groundbreaking novel caused many waves at the time of its publication, though it is thought that the accompanying movie might have been even more controversial. I chose to embark on this journey, more out of curiosity than anything else. Knowing the premise, I thought I would indulge before the season of ghouls and other spine-tingling things is fully upon us. Chris MacNeil is a screen actress and lives in Georgetown with her daughter, Regan. Quite the typical twelve, Regan enjoys some independence, but is happy to engage with her mother on a regular basis. When Regan begins to exhibit strange behaviours, Chris cannot help but seek out some medical advice, none of which yields firm answers. When the oddities begin to manifest themselves into verbal and physical attacks on others, Chris is left to grasp at straws and is pushed in the direction of a psychiatrist. The name she is given, interestingly enough, is Father Damien Karras. A Jesuit, Karras works in the parish just on the other side of the MacNeil home. When Karras agrees to come visit Regan, he is fearful, yet baffled as well, though will not jump to the idea of possession, even as Chris pushes for an exorcism. With no religious ties, the MacNeils seem highly unlikely to have a demon in their lives, but nothing else seems plausible. Karras takes an academic approach to the situation and, after numerous encounters with Regan and her alternate personality, he wonders if there might be something to this talk of demonic possession. Regan appears to have all the signs and exhibits numerous tendencies that Karras has found in scholarly articles over the centuries. With a desecration in the local parish church and the gruesome death of Chris’ friend, a local homicide detective is poking around, engaging with Karras at every turn, though no one freely shares the goings-on in the MacNeil home, which might explain at least part of these occurrences. After making his argument to the Church about the needs for some form of Catholic intervention, Karras proceeds to arm himself to enter Regan’s domain, ready to do battle with whatever is inside her. It is then that things take a turn for the worse and Karras’ entire being is tested. Blatty penned this sensational piece that, even close to a half-century later, will still send chills chills up the reader’s spine. Highly recommended for those who love a great thrill ride and can stomach some graphic descriptions and language.

In one of my previous reading challenges, I pushed members to compare a book to its screen adaptation, hoping to see the parallels and great differences. Having recently indulged in the cinematic production of this book, it is difficult for me to divorce the two, as they complement one another so well. I thoroughly enjoy watching this movie and have done so on multiple occasions. While it was produced in 1973 and some of the technology is understandably outdated, it packs a punch and was surely quite thrilling at the time. Damien Karras is a central character in the book and his presence is felt throughout, both through his personal struggles with his faith and the dedication he had when thrust into the middle of the demonic possession of a young girl. Karras begins as a distant figure, who struggles to come to terms with his mother’s illness and, upon her death, seeks to leave the umbrella of the Catholic Church. However, his character grows as he becomes a well-grounded scholar and seeks to understand what is going on with Regan MacNeil and her obvious struggles with mental stability. Chris MacNeil is also a key member of the story and her struggle to understand her daughter proves to be an ongoing theme the reader will discover. The angst and utter helplessness is something that any parent would struggle to accept, forcing Chris to turn to the experts, none of whom have the answers she wants. One cannot review this book effectively without mentioning Regan and the demon that appears to be embedded within her, as it is this that proves to offer the ultimate spine tingling. The struggles the young girl has and the demon displays push the book out of the realm of simple defiance and into an area not seen by many books of the time. The raw and unedited language proves useful—needed, even—to fulfil that complete sentiment of possession. Many readers may not like it, as I am sure scores found it problematic when the book was published, but it serves to take the book to a level that makes it all the more believed. A handful of other characters and a few interesting sub-plots keep the reader engaged and ready to see where Blatty is taking things. The story itself is quite well done and has been able to stand the test of time. While exorcisms are no longer commonplace, their allure has not diminished, be it in the published work or cinematic presentation. Blatty slowly develops the demonic aspect in such a way that the reader can see it creeping up and spiking at just the right moment. Layering the narrative with some key research, revealed by Father Karras, proves to substantiate the larger theme and keeps things from getting too fanciful. Those with a strong constitution and who can handle some strong language will surely find something in this book to keep them up late at night. I know I’ll likely put this on a list of books to read when I want a real chill, though will have to make sure the audio is not streaming when Neo’s around!

Kudos, Mr. Blatty, for keeping me enthralled throughout. I may have to check out some more of your work in the coming months, as you sure know how to tell a story!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons