Review: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (1971)


My Rating: 5 stars         Read: 2/17/2107


  • Lifetime Challenge (1971)
  • My Horror Challenge


I read this book as part of my Lifetime Challenge for the year 1971. Not only was The Exorcist a #1 New York Times bestseller for months that year, but it is a classic of the horror and thriller genres.  I listened to the audiobook read by William Peter Blatty.

I was leery going on only because I knew the story so well. I’ve seen the movie multiple times and knew there would be no surprises. I’m not generally the type who enjoys re-reading books. However, this was really a delightful (if you can use that word) listening experience. I loved hearing the author read the book and damn, but he did a phenomenal job with all the various voices and accents and with the acting. It was truly amazing. What a talented man. And listening to the author do the reading, you know you’re getting all the inflection and emotion exactly as it was in the author’s mind as he wrote it. I love that.

Even though I knew the plot well, there were still things to discover in listening to the book. The book goes into far more detail about certain things such as Regan’s medical tests, Father Karras’s mental wranglings as he wrestles with the manifestations of possession and whether they prove the existence of a true supernatural being or whether they can be explained away via natural phenomena. Also the investigation of Inspector Kinderman is given in much greater detail.

But mostly, it’s just an intensely compelling and enjoyable book to listen to. Every scene has a purpose and the plot moves forward with great energy. The characters are all wonderfully drawn and real.

At the time this book was first published, 40 years ago, exorcism and devil possession was an obscure topic that most people had never heard of. I’m envious and admiring that Blatty could find a subject like that and turn it into a mainstream novel. Of course, since The Exorcist there have been dozens of movies and books about possession, but not then. And he handled it in such a believable and mature way, really examining the question of faith and our inability to believe in the supernatural in this day and age (well, in 1971 anyway). In addition, the book doesn’t flinch away from being horribly graphic, sexual, and crude. Listening to it, many of the scenes that once shocked didn’t shock me, because they were in the film and long ago became iconic. But to think about when they were written afresh and experienced by the unsuspecting reader for the first time! Wow.

All the stars. This book is really an accomplishment far beyond such a simple rating system. It’s well worth experiencing again, especially with Blatty’s narration.

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