Monday 31 March 2008

Book Review: William Peter Blatty - The Exorcist

A funny thing happened to me yesterday…no really it did. I walked into the library at lunchtime and found three of my favourite books staring me in the face: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite and Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: the Search for Saladin by Akbar S Ahmed, so of course I grabbed all three to add to the pile growing on my bedside table.

I first read this book in my early teens, my Dad took one look at the cover and demanded I returned it to the library. This came soon after my parents insisted the Doctor referred me to a hearing specialist because they would yell and I couldn’t hear them (I can’t help it – when I open a book the world just ceases to exist). Of course my hearing was perfect, so my parents threatened to put all my books in a black bag and leave them for the bin man much to my distress. So in my house there was no clandestine drug-use or secret boyfriend but covert book-reading. Anyway, this meant that I read this book with one eye on my bedroom door and with every sound making me jump out of my skin and the book being thrown behind my bed. A perfect atmosphere for reading this book.

This famous novel is an account of a demonic possession of a little girl and the attempts of her mother and two priests to exorcise her. The entire book is an exercise in creating and then cranking up tension as the scene is set with a single mum (apparently based on Shirley McClaine) of a sweet and sensitive eleven-year old daughter moving into a big old house. In true horror-book fashion things start small and then escalate. The child is initially referred to doctors and psychologists and you see the mother becoming more and more desperate as no diagnosis is made and her daughter’s condition becomes worse. Rapping heard around the house, claims of an invisible friend, bed-wetting, moving furniture, psychotic episodes with alternate personalities, projectile vomiting and blasphemous behaviour all follow.

What follows is the mother’s realisation that science does not have the answer and her conviction that an exorcism is needed to help her daughter who is near to death. The book also shows the reluctance of the modern Catholic Church to be involved in such things, the loss of faith of one of its priests and how the concept of an exorcism challenges this.

The ending is very dramatic, but also quite satisfying which I usually like, but in this case I would much more have liked an uncertain ending to leave me avoiding dark corners. The book’s portrayal of the possessed girl is absolutely terrifying and is made even more unsettling by accounts that the novel was based on a true story. The book has been considered as the standard for horror movies and numerous copycat novels have followed. But none I have ever read come close in terms of being as well-written or as frightening.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t like bad language, obscenity or doesn’t have a fairly strong stomach (no wonder Dad wouldn’t let me read it). But if you like films like Omen and don’t gross out easily, then this might be for you.


  1. I haven't read the book; I've only watched the movie. I can not imagine how horrifying the book must be. Great review!

    ma'a salaamah,


  2. Jazakh'Allah khairun ha,
    My sisters have seen the film and weren't that scared, personally I dont have the backbone to watch it.

  3. I'm with HA... I saw the movie but haven't read the book.. Now I think I'll consider it..

    When I was 16 I read The Amityville Horror and it made me cry. I can't even watch the movie it creeped me out knowing it was based on true events.