Rosemary’s Baby (Ira Levin)

Rosemary's Baby by Ira LevinAn intriguing and enjoyable literary experience for me because this is like a social document from 1966 – which was a vastly different social, literary and cinematic age from what now exists. This is more low key and not as emotionally hard hitting as the film, but so what? You will feel like you have been to hell and back by the time this weird story has finished with you.

Moreover, this novel, and its excellent film adaptation, spurred a virtual flood of exorcists, omens, demon seeds, changelings and other hackneyed copycats. It was a powerful idea whose time had really come. Consequently, as I read it I gave it the measure of respect and deference it should be afforded. The plot, of course, is original (for its time) and the level of character development is appropriate. The pace of the story is medium which is well suited to the story line. There’s mystery, suspense, intervals of action, rape, the occult and Satanism.

Where’s the horror you may ask. Oh, there’s horror but one fails to discern and be “creeped out” by the horror within this novel because one is making the mistake of measuring the merits of the type of horror depicted within this novel to the type depicted within the horror books that one has read in the last forty five years. No comparison should be attempted because to do so is folly, and can only lead to making the reading of this novel a disappointing experience. It’s the equivalent of comparing apples to oranges.

18. all of them witches

Perhaps the character that is most interesting from our 21t century viewpoint is Rosemary’s husband, Guy Woodhouse. He violates his wife while she is in a drug-induced state, then jokes about it afterward. He verbally trashes her new hairstyle. He calls Rosemary’s friends “bitches” when they are showing genuine concern for her. He is a fan of gynaecologist Dr Sapirstein: he puts the gynaecologist’s wishes above those of his wife and rejects the possibiity that the doctor can be wrong. He throws away an important book gifted to her by a dying friend. Husband of the year? Definitely. Bullying douchebag of 1966? Absolutely.

Beside the obvious one, the horrors in this novel are more obscure and oblique, i.e., the horror of innocence lost, inconceivable betrayal, man’s willingness to obtain wealth, fame and power at any costs, the callous murder of a good man, rape by a vile creature and the acceptance of evil. I also really liked that Levin wasn’t verbose, that his sentence structure was precise and that he avoided excessive prose and descriptions. Gosh, I don’t want to even imagine how that would have bogged the story down. This style is lacking in the output of the most famous horror novelist of our age.

I’m a voracious reader but I bore easily so, of course, I can’t stand it when an author slows a story to a snail’s crawl by filling it with excessive dialogue, excessive descriptions, superficial details and/or superficial characters. The horror of Ira Levin’s classic is always implied within mundane events, with no shocking references. Finally, I think if one can manage to set aside preconceived notions of what constitutes horror or at least broaden one’s mind enough to accept and appreciate more subtle forms of the term “horror” than this will be an enjoyable literary experience. If not, then move along.

All-of-them-witches-Rosemary's-Baby-2014

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Comments

  1. I read this as a teenager (before I saw the film) and it did frighten me and I lapped up all Ira Levin’s book in a short space of time and haven’t read them since. I found your comments really interesting and makes me think I should dig this out and re-read it

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for that, Phil. I’m impressed with how unassuming Levin created his villainous characters (prattling elderly couple, concerned young husband etc) in the conspiracy against Rosemary. In real life this is probably how evil manifests itself – hiding behind a bland exterior that few would ever notice.

    Liked by 2 people

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