I’m just going to jump into the deep end here and start the review because if you are unfamiliar with the story by this point you really don’t belong here. So yes, I am a little late on the draw in finally reading this book. I had the old 70’s paperback I bought in a used book store when I was a kid, and I read quite a bit of it, but never to completion due to a short attention span. And after finally finishing the book, I was really taken aback that I had not done this sooner.
I have often heard that the book is better than the movie, but we often hear that of all book-to-screen translations. But there is a reason for that old cliche, and The Exorcist is it. This is a seriously damned good book that everyone should read. Personally, I didn’t find it scary, but I did find it compelling (which is just as good). I was very touched by Father Karras’s struggle to restore his faith in a God he no longer believes in and having that atheism challenged by the existence of pure evil. The way the demon goes out of it’s way to toy with Karras by making it seem the possession is a psychological issue while feeding Karras clues as to what is really happening was mischievous and diabolical and so true to the nature of evil.
The humanity of all the characters (there honestly isn’t a truly unlikable character in this book, other than the demon) helps the reader empathize with their plight. Forcing them to try to wrap their heads around the demonic presence and being utterly helpless to do anything about it is a writing technique Blatty uses to point towards the need of a higher power to combat the evil. This under-current of good vs. evil slowly builds over the course of the novel and reaches it’s crescendo with the 11th hour entrance of Father Merrin, whose previous battles with this evil are alluded too by him and the demon. His entrance both satisfies and terrifies the demon who wants revenge but knows Merrin is the only one who can stand up to it. We all know how this ends, with Karrasn and the demon tumbling down a flight of stairs, but this version of the book makes it rather clear that Karras is the victor.
The book is also insanely hilarious at times. You don’t really hear that often about the book, but it’s true. This is most evident between the conversations between Detective Kinderman and Father Karras. Despite initially thinking Karras is a suspect in Black Mass related acts of vandalism in the D.C. area, they form a friendship that is beautifully written and touching. Incidentally, it’s one of the best parts of the book. I did a bit of internet sleuthing and discovered Blatty was a comedic writer before doing this book. He worked with director Blake Edwards and actually penned A Shot in the Dark, the first of the Pink Panther movie series. The Exorcist is Blatty’s most well-known work, which is both a blessing and a curse because after writing it there was no going back to comedy for him. Nobody wanted to buy a comedy from the guy who wrote The Exorcist.
It’s an amazing book that works as a horror novel and a treatise on the nature of evil. It’s a fascinating tome that is well worthy of it’s reputation and one I plan to re-read, which is something I rarely ever do.