Review: Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

Book cover of Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin

You know how sometimes you think you know the gist of a classic (ish) book and then it turns out that actually you had no idea and you’re sat there, blinking, and going “What? Really!?” That.

Plot summary: Rosemary Woodhouse and her struggling actor-husband, Guy, move into the Bramford, an old New York City apartment building with an ominous reputation and only elderly residents. Neighbours Roman and Minnie Castavet soon come nosing around to welcome them; despite Rosemary’s reservations about their eccentricity and the weird noises that she keeps hearing, her husband starts spending time with them. Shortly after Guy lands a plum Broadway role, Rosemary becomes pregnant, and the Castavets start taking a special interest in her welfare. As the sickened Rosemary becomes increasingly isolated, she begins to suspect that the Castavets’ circle is not what it seems.

I can’t decide if what the book is actually about counts as a spoiler or not because, although it’s fairly apparent not too far into the book, it isn’t mentioned in the blurb, which is my rule of thumb for these kind of things. As such, I won’t mention it although you probably already know and the cover gives a damn good indication anyway. 

Vague? Me? God forbid.

Anyway, I wouldn’t class Rosemary’s Baby as horror – it’s less scary than the Goosebumps books I read when I was a child I heard about from the other children. Instead of being outright frightening, it fills you with an odd sense of unease about… something. This isn’t getting any less vague, is it? Sorry. You know what’s happening and you know the Castavets are just not quite right somehow, but there’s something else that niggles at the back of your head and prevents you from properly relaxing even when you put the book down.

I read the second half of the book in a wide-eyed, tense huddle – the atmosphere of not-right-ness had seeped through the pages and invaded my very core. It’s predictable and not even very unique, but it does make you panickingly question the trustworthiness of neighbours, babies and pregnancies in general.   

The writing style is very simple, which makes sense as Rosemary herself is very simple. Now, I know this book is 47 years old and times have changed blah blah blah. But even for almost five decades ago, Rosemary is weak. I did feel for her and I desperately wanted her to succeed, but she was just so passive. I don’t mean this as a flaw of the book because that’s just her character – some people are actually like that, after all. The simple writing style just does a good job of highlighting that.

If I had one complaint about Rosemary’s Baby, it was the ending. I know a mother’s love can overcome a lot of things and it’s been the focus of many a story before this one, but come on. It doesn’t say a whole lot about the author’s views on women if he thinks their sense of logic and morals can be that easily overcome. Cheers for that.

I haven’t read Stepford Wives yet, but I think I will be doing soon – I know more about it than I did Rosemary’s Baby, but not enough to spoil it. I really would recommend that you read this one though – it’s short, accessible and interestingly disturbing.

 Read Laura’s review of Rosemary’s Baby at Devouring Texts.

Comments

  1. Laura says:

    Ah, Rosemary's Baby. God, I loved that book, in a totally suspenseful/horrified/awesomeified way. I have issues with Rosemary, definitely, because of how she WENT BACK TO HER ABUSER HUSBAND, but I don't know if I'd describe her as weak… Or at least she's not always. Maybe…

  2. Kelly says:

    I've seen the movie (which I didn't really care for), and now I'm really intrigued about the book. I might have to add it to my TBR, and then just hope I get to it eventually.

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