“Rosemary’s Baby” by Ira Levin

Babies are just downright freaky. This is fact. However, it was not always this way! You may be surprised to know that once upon a time, people found babies endearing, and lovable. Then along came Ira Levin and terrified a generation of parents, and further generations to come.

The plot:
Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse have just moved into an apartment building, the Bramford. An old Gothic styled building, it has a sinister reputation for unfortunate accidents and conspiracies. Rosemary is eager to have a baby, however Guy is far too obsessed with his struggling acting career to contribute. Things begin to change however when they befriend their over-friendly neighbours, the Castevets…

Children. They are just a common staple of the horror genre at this stage. If you want to add an air of creepiness, simply add a pale child singing a lullaby while holding a candle with dull lifeless eyes. It’s a guaranteed winner. But this is not the form that Levin uses. He uses the process of pregnancy to inflict a dull horror upon his readers, and does so to good effect.

As the title clearly indicates, the focus is entirely on Rosemary’s baby. The source of any emotions, discomfort or anxiety in particular, synch up very nicely with the same feelings experienced by Rosemary due to her unborn child. This enforces a feeling of abject horror, one of which will almost certainly reach women and mothers, expectant mothers in particular.

She speaks of a dull pain, which gets steadily worse. This is matched by our sense of anxiety as we see what Rosemary cannot, that there is clearly something very wrong with her pregnancy. It is hinted at continuously, but not outright stated until the second act. And while the fear of pregnancy gone wrong is a frightening enough prospect, the supernatural element adds an extra level of horror to the proceedings. Again, this is only hinted at for the most part as hinting is a skill Ira Levin clearly possesses and puts to great use.

All throughout the novel, controversies are hinted at. Unseen oppressors make their presence felt, whether they are existent or not. The Bramford building itself feels like a living entity, thanks to a particularly long description of it in the opening chapter. A study of this apartment building as a metaphor for the womb would be all too easy to construct. And the Castevets, who on the surface are friendly and neighbourly people, are the most oppressive of all, suffocating Rosemary with their company.

It is a well paced, building slowly on this impending catastrophe. It builds and builds, reaching an almost bursting point towards the end of the second act, before settling. And then, with horrible realisation, you realise the process is going to start-up again. The narrative toys with your sense of safety, and you truly feel for Rosemary as she comes to realise how alone she is. If it can be faulted at all, the main issue to be had with Rosemary’s Baby is that it is too short. It is a satisfying story, of this there is no doubt. It’s just a shame there isn’t more of it.

Rosemary’s Baby is an interesting read in that it deals very much with physicality and physical reactions. It plays on the fears of mothers, the womb, childbirth and abjection. These are powerful tools in the medium of horror and Levin uses them well. It is a bit short and therefore irritating that, although Levin clearly possesses the ability, he does not expand more on this already excellent story. Still, he plays a safe game, and this an excellent novel regardless. On a side note, the well-known film adaptation is remarkably faithful to the book, and one of the few instances in which the film version probably exceeds the literary version. Again, this should not deter readings from a captivating, albeit horrifying, tale.

Awful Rating: 9/10

He chose you Rosemary! From all the women in the world to be the mother of his only living son.” – Minnie Castevet

Shamelessly Awful Facts:

  • This is yet another book I was supposed to read for my thesis, and I wholly regret not doing so now. If I had picked this up then, I would have finished it in a night and it would have counted as ‘beneficial procrastination’. Instead, I invented a game with spatulas called Wacky ball…
  • When I was a wee lad, and whenever I used to go to video shops, I would invariably end up looking through the horror section, even though my folks were morally opposed to horror in general. I remember picking up the VHS copy of Rosemary’s Baby and, so strong was the image on the front cover i.e. the creepy pram on the hilltop, that my imagination conjured up the most horrific nightmare imaginable that night. It was less subtle than the story itself and basically featured a baby trying to eat my face
Published in: on October 8, 2011 at 12:02 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Hi there mates, nice article and fastidious arguments commented at this
    place, I am really enjoying by these.

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