Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review: Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin

Rosemary's Baby 
Written by Ira Levin

Published: 1967

Synopsis: She is a housewife - young, healthy, blissfully happy. He is an actor- charaismatic and ambitious. The spacious sun-filled apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side is their dream home - a dream that turns into an unspeakable nightmare...

My thoughts: Rosemary is a young newly-wed who is desperate to start a family with her actor husband, Guy. He seems a little reticent (even though he's 9 years older) and doesn't want to even think about it before he's had his "big break". The book begins when the two of them find out an apartment is available at the Bramford, a HUGE Victorian-esque apartment complex in New York that has a rather shady past. It was home to the Trench sisters who used to eat children, A Satanist/witch named Marcato also called it home, and some other names are thrown in without any specification of what horrible nastiness they committed, perhaps they were hit-men, mafia bosses, cannibals, witches, or god knows what else?! Because of an unhappy situation involving the suicide of a young woman Rosemary had only met the previous day, Rosemary and Guy finally meet their loud and rather obnoxious older neighbours, Minnie and Roman. After a first awkward dinner party with Minnie and Roman, Rosemary is ready to sever ties with them, but when Guy (who had issues with his parents growing up) seems to take a real liking to them, she lets it go and goes back to keeping house.

Which is what much of the book is about, keeping house. Rosemary is your typical 1960s housewife, she takes pride in keeping a beautiful house for her husband and entertaining friends in their well-kept home. So as minor narration describes Guy spending hours next door with the oldies and doing rather badly in his auditions, and some weird dinner party singing/chanting coming from next door, the main thrust follows Rosemary as she sews together pillows for their window seat, or daydreams about the yellow wallpaper she'll use when they covert the sitting room into a nursery. Now, don't get me wrong, it isn't written in a "she is a woman, this is her place" kind of way, it's simply following Rosemary in her daily life, and slowly hints at things being not quite right. She isn't a super hero, she isn't feuding with her husband, she isn't mega rich or super poor. She's a typical woman, living a typical life and enjoying it.

That said, she isn't a simple character, she's a very interesting woman who, as the book and the action progresses, is constantly torn between behaving in the approved female position (i.e. the man is right, do what he says) and speaking up for how she feels or when she doubts what a man is telling her. For example, after settling into their apartment, Guy's luck is looking up and the play he was desperate to play a part in, which had been cast without him, offers him the lead role. With his career looking up, they decide it's time to start their family, and Rosemary prepares a beautiful dinner to lead into their night of baby-making. After a few too many drinks (*ahem* drugged chocolate mousse) Rosemary passes out in her bed and "dreams" some really crazy crap which eventuates with the devil himself raping her. When she makes up the next morning with scratches covering her body, Guy laughs it off by saying he's cut down his nails already and "sorry, but I was super excited about having a baby. Whoops!". I'd already seen this in the film, but I couldn't hold back my inner WTF! If my husband said "oops, sorry I raped you but it's OK because BABY!" I'd cut his dick off. But Rosemary is torn between her obvious disgust, "but we could have done it this morning or tonight, last night wasn't the only night," and her conditioned response that the husband is right and good and all OK. After the whole thing swirls around her head, she takes off to a friend's house in the wood to re-evaluate their relationship without his interference. Now she may not come down on the side I would have, but the constant tug-a-war that occurred in her mind during this event and the others that occur is what makes this book interesting, especially in regards to the time the novel took place in.

But moving on, this book isn't simply about Rosemary keeping house, it's also about her being pregnant, and it's once she becomes pregnant that the horror element of the book really kicks in. Given the possible cause of her pregnancy, she doesn't have a simple or pain-free pregnancy, in fact she's so crippled with pain she ends up looking like a skeleton and can barely move from room to room. But no-one, not Guy, Roman and Minnie, nor her doctor seem to take her pleas for help seriously, and she fears for the life of her child. As the pain gets worse, she grows paranoid that everyone is in on a plot to steal her child away from her, and this is when the supernatural elements tied to the creepy old apartment building are tied in. The great thing about this book, is even as you find yourself caught up in the supernatural fear that Rosemary has, you find yourself questioning if she's not simply paranoid and perhaps losing her mind to the pregnancy-crazies just a little. It's because the first half of the book concentrates on the mundane and the ordinary so much, that you can never truly form an opinion one way or another. And this is coming from someone who'd seen the film several times before finally cracking open the book.

If you've seen the film and don't have a lot of spare time, perhaps skip this one, since in a rare occurrence the film is almost exactly the same, down to every last line. However, it really was a fascinating read, so if you're interesting to read what inspired the film, or you want to see an amalgam of 1960s horror and housewifery then head down to the library or book store and grab a copy. There is a sequel, set in 1999 I believe, but it's supposed to be absolutely rubbish. I've got a morbid fascination for those terrible sequels though, so I'll give it a go and let you all know how I find it!

4.5 out of 5 creepy old naked people standing around your bed.


  1. Oh I love this book (and film); slightly dated but immaculately plotted. The ways it builds from vague hints to outright dread is great.

    The sequel is absolute drivel though. Don't, just don't. (The Boys From Brazil is really good though, although not quite horror.)

    1. I really want to read the Stepford Wives. I'm embarrassed to say that the only version I've seen is the Nicole Kidman/Matthew Broderick version. Nicole did play a good robot though, but I think that's because it's all she can play