After reading about 2,100 pages over the past week, I’m getting my thoughts in order and have started formulating individual reviews. I don’t use a rating system for books; instead I categorize them by how they made me feel when I finished them. My personal barometer looks like this:
Awesome – I loved the book and will harangue others into reading it.
Meh – I finished it with a shrug. Others might like it, but it wasn’t for me.
Bullshit – Didn’t care for the book at all, had major issues with either the plot or the writing itself.
* * * *
Let’s start with the obvious: The Exorcist movie is better than the book. Way better. The strange thing is that Blatty wrote them both. Hell, the author won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay based on his own novel. A few years ago Blatty re-released the book for its fortieth anniversary and took the opportunity to polish it up and make some small fixes that had bothered him. I read the original version from the 1970s, so I cannot speak to how the versions differ. If anyone’s compared and contrasted the two narratives, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.
My issues with the story stem from dual sources: too many characters don’t add value to the plot, and too much action takes place “off screen.” The main characters are Chris MacNeil, a movie star, and her 11-year-old daughter Regan, neither of whom is particularly endearing. In fact the girl is a tad annoying and never quite comes together as her own person, rather remains defined by her mother (and later by the demon Pazuzu). Regan is only treated as Chris MacNeil’s kid, daughter of a famous actress.
Chris is far too narcissistic for us to be emotionally invested in her plight. Long after her daughter exhibits signs of severe physical and psychological distress, Chris is still debating whether to take Regan to the hospital or accept a movie gig in Europe. Seriously? What sort of mother would vacillate like that? Besides a bad one, I mean.
Beyond that the story’s padded unnecessarily by other characters and subplots that water down the urgency of the main narrative. We don’t care about Chris’ drunk director boss, or the two housekeepers, or Chris’ personal secretary, or that bumbling detective Kinderman who can’t keep his mouth shut.
The only other people who matter are Father Karras, the young psychiatrist-priest who’s lost his faith, and Father Merrin, the experienced priest who once fought the same demon that’s possessed Regan. A lot of people claim Karras is the titular exorcist; I believe the title refers to Merrin, because during the scenes of exorcism at the end of the book Blatty differentiates between the two priests as “the exorcist and the psychiatrist.” Your interpretation may differ, and I could be mistaken. Merrin himself is only utilized for about thirty pages, a shame since he’s the most interesting character in the story.
The narrative itself could’ve been much more dynamic. Too many of the pivotal scenes take place out of sight, and none is told from Regan’s point of view. Two of the most important sequences in the entire book are off limits to the reader. During the exorcism, for instance, Merrin tells Karras to leave him alone with the demon; when Karras returns later, Merrin’s dead beside Regan’s bed.
Are you kidding me? I sat through almost 400 pages to get to the exorcism, the point of the whole damn book, and we don’t even get to see Merrin and the demon fight to the death? By this point Blatty’s lost my trust as a storyteller (the kiss of death for any writer).
Then Blatty slings that same weak shit again after Karras takes up the fight against Pazuzu. The story cuts to the other characters listening downstairs to the sounds of struggle in Regan’s bedroom. Then they hear the CRASH of a windowpane and look outside to find Karras’ mangled body on the steps below.
Really? I wanted to hurl the book across the room. That’s six hours of my life I can’t get back.
Add to this Blatty’s weird use of language at times. For example, at one point he has a character set down a vase or something “on a table the color of sadness.” What color is sadness, exactly? Is it like a tartan? For that matter, how does a rainbow taste? Regular readers may not notice quirks like this, but for any writer it’s like a thumb in the eye.
I feel Blatty used the screenplay to take another crack at the story, this time more successfully. He cut out the boring parts, streamlined the cast of characters and made the remaining scenes more dramatic. The issues I have with the book simply aren’t in the film. Do yourself a favor – skip the book and pop in the DVD instead.
This book is BULLSHIT