‘The most terrifying novel ever written’ did not scare me but I found it a very disturbing and gripping read. Maybe a Catholic reader or anyone brought up to believe that the devil exists would find this book more frightening. The book is of course overshadowed by the famous and notorious film adaptation. I assume that most people who read it today are doing so because they are curious after seeing the film. I won’t be discussing the film in this post, as that will be a separate ‘film of the book’ post.
The Exorcist is centred on a case of possible demonic possession in Georgetown. 12-year-old Regan becomes ill and then her behaviour gets weirder and more repulsive until she has to be tied down and tranquillised, but even then she is able to wreak violence on herself and others. Her mother, the actress Chris MacNeil, is increasingly devastated as she sees her daughter become unrecognisable. She seeks help from medical professionals. Meanwhile, a Jesuit priest, Father Karras, is grieving for his mother and is doubting his faith. Gradually the story brings Father Karras into contact with the MacNeils…
There are a lot of things going on this book and it will certainly make you think. Much of the story is given to investigating what could medically be wrong with Regan and then once the idea takes hold that she might be possessed (or thinks she is), the focus is on collecting enough proof for Father Karras’s superiors to permit an exorcism to take place. It’s not a spoiler to say there’s an exorcism (I mean the clue is in the title) but the rites only occupy a small section at the end of the book. There’s an unhurried build-up and it’s not the kind of book where you expect horror on every page.
This book has the filthiest language I’ve ever encountered in fiction and there are some truly disturbing scenes. I certainly won’t forget it. Beyond the grossness, however, are interesting explorations of faith, psychiatry and the nature of evil.
Recommended if you’re curious about this novel and are not put off by the obscene content.
First published in 1971. This is the 40th anniversary edition published in 2011 with revisions by the author.