by William Peter Blatty
It is that time of year now, when the air is getting cold, and the nights longer. It is at this time of year where I like to read “scary stuff”. This is the book that inspired the famous supernatural horror film of the same name and the reason why I picked it up immediately at a bookstore.
Despite knowing the story (thanks to the movie), I was still glued to the pages of this book. It was fun reading this in bed, with just the light coming from the bedside lamp. The story begins when a Jesuit Priest, Father Merrin becomes disturbed after coming across a demon statue while on an archaeological trip in Iraq. He is alerted to a demon he once fought with before during an exorcism. And before we can learn more, we are transported to Washington D.C.
In Washington D.C, we are acquainted with Chris MacNeil, an actress and her young daughter called Regan. Regan at first appears to be a sweet young girl, who has a good relationship with her mother. But then her behaviour starts to change. She becomes ill and begins to complain about her room. Though her mother does not notice the burning smell that Regan complains about, she does notice furniture being moved. Something she believes her daughter could not physically do.
When Regan’s personality changes and she becomes verbally abusive, Chris takes her to the doctors and psychiatrists. But when none of them can offer explanation to Regan’s behaviour, she turns to a local Jesuit priest, Damien Karras. Though an atheist herself, she is open to suggestion that her daughter might be demonically possessed. Damien, who is trained as a psychiatrist is reluctant to believe Regan is under a demonic possession and uses science to explain the changes in her behaviour. He toys with the idea of split personality disorder and spends a lot of time gathering information at the library. He tells Chris that the church does not readily give out approvals for exorcism, not without substantial and thorough evidence.
But when he comes to a realisation that Regan is infact demonically possessed, he is introduced to Father Merrin, who had left Iraq to come to the States. Together they set out to carry exorcism. Mind you, exorcism scenes do not appear until the final pages. But this shouldn’t put you off as the writer does a great job of providing an absorbing storyline to keep the readers hooked and terrified.
Being a fan of supernatural horror that teeters on religion, I enjoyed this book so much. There was information about black mass and how demon possession works. It was as if the writer was giving readers an introduction course on Occultism. I have to warn those who haven’t seen the movie, that this book contains explicit language pertaining religious figures. So, be warned.
Even though I finished this book a few days ago, I cannot help but recall the moment in the book when the demon (that has possessed Regan) sensing Father Merrin has arrived at the house and calls out his name “Merrin!!” in a loud, terrifying voice. By the way it was the same demon that Father Merrin had fought with a long time ago. I visualised how that sounded; the booming voice, the sound that resonated from top floor to the entrance hall downstairs. I found this more terrifying than when Regan turns her head around. That moment is going to take a while to leave my memory. But this goes to show what an exceptional writer Wiliam Peter Blatty is, in gifting the readers the ability to put words on the pages into visualisation.
I really should add that this book is not exactly for the faint-hearted.