Hey, y’all, remember when I used to have a blog? …. Me, neither. Lets talk about The Exorcist.
The book, not the movie because I love pea soup and I refuse to see it abused in such a fashion.
As many (any?) of you may know, I’ve been in and out of hospital recently and, during my last stay, I got fed up and randomly started surfing for something to read on my phone at — uh — about 5 am, if I remember rightly. The BPL Overdrive threw The Exorcist at me and I thought, ‘What the hell.’ I’ve always sort of meant to read it and I certainly wasn’t going anywhere, right?
Fair warning: Here be spoilers (probably) and I’m assuming anyone reading knows at least generally what the story is about.
It’s… fine. Like, it’s not fine, obviously, lots of horrible things happen, many of them to a child which a lot of people seem to feel is worse than the same thing happening to an adult. On the whole, even in a quiet hospital at 7 in the morning — not an absolutely ideal time for a horror novel, I agree, but not terrible either — it wasn’t that actually frightening. That said, I think I’m the wrong audience for it; I’m about 40 years too late and 10 years too not-Christian to have this one get under my skin.
The writing is — odd. I’m not sure what Blatty was going for unless it was some kind of metaphor-per-inch award: . I hope he got it, though, because after you get into the rhythm of it, it works. I don’t know if it would work for anything else, but it works for a story about displacement: displaced demons, displaced dead, displaced living. (Anyone else feel kinda sorry for Pazuzu after Merrin died?)
Despite all the metaphors, it’s also a very barebones writings: things happen, one after the other, and the reader gets more or less pulled along. There’s very little about the interior lives of any of the characters except for one or two incidents per character: Karras and his mother, for example. This is effective in the sense of getting the reader to remember the characters and delineating them in nice sharp lines, but also means I ended up feeling like these people were all determined by, at most, half a dozen key moments and this, for me, made them all strangely flat. Regan and Merrin, especially, suffered from this; Regan for more interesting reasons, I think, because you mostly meet her through other people’s recollections. You only get a scene or two with Regan as an agent for herself and those at the end don’t help much because, duh, you’re at the end of the book and, if the narrative has worked to get you to buy in, this is a kid who’s basically been hollowed out by an immensely powerful demon; I’m not sure she’s on her A game, if you know what I mean.
Oh, and by the way. There’s a passing moment somewhere in the middle of the book where the detective, Kinderman, asks Chris what her daughter is named; she tells him; he says it’s a beautiful name and we move on. For a verbose guy who’s just been pontificating about Scofield’s Lear, it seems like a missed opportunity and it bugs me.
The Exorcist also suffers from all the problems of its innumerable progeny, chiefly the question, ‘Is it really supernatural?’ At one point Father Karras says, talking about poltergheist phenomena, says, “Apparently, extreme inner tension of the mind can sometimes trigger some unknown energy that seems to move objects around at a distance. But there’s nothing supernatural about it.” Uh… Father? Some people from Oxford are here and they’d like to speak with you. I mean seriously. There’s being skeptical and there’s plain ol’ not listening to the words coming out of your mouth.
That said, I’m not going to knock any book that also so clearly contains part of the inspiration for my beloved Joyce Byers. Chris and she would get along just fine — might smoke themselves to death, though.
On the spur of the moment, I’m adopting a ratings system because why not.
Three crows out of five to The Exorcist. Sorry, old bean; guess I’m not Catholic enough