Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin

I gravitate to the classics and new literary fiction. I very rarely review anything that hasn't been published in the last year. So, I thought that it would be fun to do a retro review. I chose a novel that wasn't exactly hailed for its literary prowess, but was influential in its own right. Maybe this will become a series of reviews? We'll see... 

Spoiler-free summary:
Rosemary Woodhouse and her husband Guy have moved into the apartment of their dreams.The Bramford, their new, elaborate building has a tumultuous past, but Rosemary and Guy are confident that the building's days of suicides and cultish misfits are over. As they become settled in their new home, Guy's acting career picks up and Rosemary is overjoyed to learn that she's expecting. Their neighbors, Minnie and Roman, encourage them and nurse Rosemary through her painful pregnancy. However, Rosemary suspects that their new creepy neighbors might have hidden motives for helping them in their time of need...


I haven't seen the movie, but many people have told me it is boring. If the movie is structured anything like the novel, I can see how you would get that impression. The first seventy percent of the novel is about Rosemary adjusting to pregnancy, decorating her new apartment, meeting the neighbors, and being generally domesticated. It was somewhat interesting to read now, in 2014, because her housekeeping and prenatal techniques seem a little antiquated (Rosemary is my alcoholism role model). I can't imagine how boring this would have been to readers at the time of publication, though. I only persevered through these mundane descriptions of wifehood because I thought they were quaint. I'm having a hard time finding information about the initial reception of the novel.

Rosemary's suspicions aren't fully aroused until way, way toward the end of the novel. At first this pissed me off, but then I realized that my anger toward Rosemary was exactly what Levin wanted us to feel (at least, I hope). We are lulled into complacency along with Rosemary. We are swept into her world of shopping, decorating, and impending motherhood while the "crazy" allegations of witchcraft are driven into the background. In fact, we don't actually get any confirmation concerning Rosemary's fears until, in the last few pages of the novel, we are shown Rosemary's yellow-eyed, claw-handed baby. The story unfolds for us as it unfolded for Rosemary. For me, who thought this novel was going to be akin to a thriller, I was pleased to find that this novel is much more psychological than I initially suspected.

The writing isn't so hot. Rosemary and her husband give each other a lot of looks that magically transmit entire unspoken sentences to one another (For example, I look at you with a glint in my eyes that says, "No, this isn't an example of witchcraft or ESP, they're just shakily written characters"). But despite the iffy writing, I was still drawn into the plot, so it must not have been that bad.

Give Rosemary's Baby a chance. It's a fun glimpse into the world of 1960's domesticity with a little satanism on the side.

Photo: Dell (NY)

1 comment:

  1. Sounds really interesting, though I fear I wouldn't be intrigued enough by 1960s domesticity to make it to the end!