Monday, January 4, 2010

The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty

The Ninth Configuration

By William Peter Blatty

Looking at the cover of the edition that I read (not the one shown above), the publishers did everything in their power to make you think you were purchasing a horror novel. “By the author of The Exorcist,” the cover proclaims from above a silhouette of a creepy old manor encased in an eerie green glow, looking, in fact, almost exactly like the cover of Blatty’s infamous aforementioned book. The synopsis of the story throws around typical genre adjectives such as “decaying,” “Gothic,” “inexplicable,” and “ominous.” The publishers did everything, in fact, short of actually publishing a horror novel.

The creepy old manor is a makeshift hospital set up by the government to treat a group of Marines who have suffered unexplained mental breakdowns and, in laymen’s terms, gone batshit crazy. One thinks he is orbiting the moon. Another is attempting to stage a Shakespearean play in which all the parts are acted by dogs. Another thinks he is Superman. The doctors are all stumped, and the military higher-ups think that the whole insanity plea is just a clever ruse to get out of combat.

Enter Hudson Kane, a cutting-edge psychiatrist whose novel approach to therapy yields as many results as it does sneers from others in the profession. The patients respond to him well, though, probably because he seems to be a man split in half by his own worries, whatever they are. It reaches a crazy psychological climax, and in such a short time, too.

When the book is actually doing something, it’s a decent enough tale about identity and faith, but clocking in at only 135 pages, it’s barely considered a novel. Even at such a short length, a lot of the book seems padded with pages upon pages of delirious babblings by the mental cases and could have crossed the finished line in a third of the time without actually losing anything in the process.

If you’re looking for horror, look somewhere else. If you just want to visit the other side of Blatty’s mind, however, you may as well start here. And, on the up side, it’ll only take you a few hours to come back.


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  1. I absolutely love William Peter Blatty! While the film version of The Ninth Configuration had some shortcomings, it's still very fascinating. I rather liked the "stream of consciousness" style of writing ("babbling") and thought it gave it an authentic feel in dealing with madness. Those early establishing shots were great, particularly the statues.

    Can't wait for Blatty's new book Dimiter.

  2. Trying to track down a nice vintage copy of this book! Thought the movie was strangely fascinating even if it probably wasn't too great.


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