The Exorcist is famous for being one of the scariest films in history, but I didn’t realise until recently that it was a book first. I’ve not seen the film as I hate scary movies, but bizarrely I quite enjoy scary books so I decided to give it a go.
The plot is pretty famous - girl gets possessed by demon. Priest comes along to help. Regan is the daughter of a famous film actress and one day she starts behaving weirdly - talking to an imaginary friend, sleepwalking. Then her behaviour deteriorates further and further until her mother has to physically restrain her and call in help.
I thought The Exorcist was okay, but only okay. The plot details the gradual deterioration of Regan’s physical and mental health after her possession. The deterioration mostly consists of projectile vomiting and copious amounts of swearing. There’s a bit of psychic phenomena, but I think this could have been built up a bit more to make the book spookier. Probably when the book was released (1971), the swearing would have had a lot more of an impact than it does today, but as it was it didn’t really frighten me.
The book seems to rely on shocking the reader rather than spooking them out. And it is very shocking. For instance, there’s a bit where Regan masturbates with a crucifix. It wasn’t spooky or creepy, just gross and, I don’t know, it felt a bit heavy-handed. Truly creeping a reader out is a fine art, and one that you don’t see very often. Stephen King manages it in some of his books and Ira Levin was a master, but this book was more profane then blood-chilling.
The main characters in the book were interesting. The priest who gets involved is having a bit of an existential crisis, and he is also a psychiatrist, so the juxtaposition between science and religion was an interesting aspect. We didn’t get to see much of Regan before she is possessed, but we got to know her a bit through her mother’s account of her. Chris (the mother) was okay, but a bit weak and flappy, although the inclusion of her three assistants was interesting as I was constantly trying to guess which one of them (if any) was behind the possession.
For me, the plot felt like it was paced a bit bizarrely. It starts off slow, then the possession happens and it speeds up a bit as Regan’s behaviour deteriorates. Then there’s a whole section where Regan is being restrained and no one really seems to know what to do, when the pace slowed right down again. Then, at about 90% (I read this on my Kindle), the action speeds right up, a character from the prologue is re-introduced, and there’s a resolution. So yeah, odd pacing.
I’m quite glad I read The Exorcist and all in all this was an okay book, but if you’re looking to be properly spooked out I’d probably watch the film instead.