When I was eleven I had a teacher who was a vicar. He was also an exorcist and now and again he would tell us about his experiences. Nothing graphic or scary was revealed, but we all knew there were some things the vicar could not tell us.
The Exorcist was a book my parents had read and when I felt daring enough I would open it to read a paragraph, afraid of Biblical forces smiting me if I read any more. The book spawned many paranormal and horror films and I heard rumours that a child's head spun completely around. I was so afraid. I could become possessed too.
Years later, I read it fully. The story really is about the exorcist himself, the battles the man faces in his own life as well as dealing with the possessed child. The priest is a well-rounded character with a crisis of faith and death of his mother to contemplate. He is flawed and likeable and develops through the story as do the other characters. The film focused on the sensational aspects, such as the head spinning, projectile vomiting, obscenities and levitation, whereas the novel is gripping because of the psychological tension, the warmth of the characters and the easy, rolling writing. No unnecessary detail in the narrative keeps the pace and heightens the suspense.
Obviously dark, The Exorcist is brooding and gothic, more terror than horror, thoughtful and powerful. It isn't about good versus evil as such, more guilt versus redemption, shame versus love. Above all, it is an original story well told.
Published by Transworld Digital; 40th Anniversary Reissue edition on 20 January 2010. Originally published by Harper and Row in June 1971.