Friday, October 21, 2011

Literary Frontiers: Rosemary's Baby

by Sara Crow

Literary Frontiers is a series in the blog which gives us the chance to offer our perspective on both new and established science fiction and speculative fiction books. The series will publish around twice a month, or whenever one of us can finish and post one of our most recent reading projects.

The selection this time is, appropriately for the Halloween, Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby. Not exactly sci-fi, but can certainly fit into the fantasy/speculative fiction arena, at least with a little wiggling. Horrific urban fantasy? Sure. Okay, so I bent the rules a little because of the season. So sue me.

The review follows after the jump. Just be careful what doors you open: you may not be able to close them again.

Rosemary's Baby
by Ira Levin
Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1967
ISBN (modern edition): 1605981109

Rosemary's Baby is a great book, but I have to say that aside from a few pages' worth of scenes and some small details, this book is almost perfectly represented by the film. Even outfits and scene direction are meticulously rendered in Polanski's adaptation. It was astonishing to see how much he lifted straight from the text. Polanski managed to capture the book flawlessly, a fact for which he's worthy of high praise, in my opinion. If I'd read the book first, I would be delighted to see the movie delivered so faithfully. However, as someone reading the book after loving the film for so many years, reading the piece almost seemed redundant. This isn't to say that I wouldn't encourage reading the book, but any reader should be aware of the fact that reading the book will give an almost identical vibe to watching the film.

That being said, I greatly enjoyed reading Levin's original work. It took me almost no time at all to read it, and I'm not sure if that was due to the fact that it was a compulsive read (which it certainly felt like, as I was taking every spare opportunity to crack open the book and read a few pages, and the narrative clipped along so neatly that it was easy to do) or because I recognized it so completely. Levin's style is tight (almost to the point of minimalism) and very easy to read. His analogies were flawless and flowed seamlessly into the story. He managed to capture a Gothic feeling in a very modern and urban setting and did so with a masterful touch. Dialogue and characterization is realistic, though I've always felt that Guy could be developed a little more fully. Levin compensates for that by arguing numerous times (straight from Guy's mouth, at a few points) that Guy is exactly as shallow as he seems.

I've always loved Minnie and Roman. I know I'm not supposed to. I know they're evil people who, just in the course of the book, fertilize a woman with Satan's seed, drug her God knows how many times, kill at least two people, and blind one man. But gosh, they come off as such sweet people. Levin captures the sometimes annoying but grandparent-like nature of both characters splendidly. They're so considerate and seem so open and friendly. The make fantastic antagonists.

I don't know that I'll read this book again cover-to-cover, but only due to the fact that doing so seems redundant. The book certainly holds a quality that would allow for a second or third read, though it's sparse enough to not need too much re-reading for depth's sake. It is definitely a worthwhile read to consider and compare with early feminist Gothic pieces, like Charlotte Perkins Gillman's "The Yellow Wall-Paper" or Virginia Woolf's "The Mark on the Wall" (or any of her other Gothic short stories) or even Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher." There's definitely space for discussion of feminism and the rights of the mother prior to and during the birth experience, as well as obvious discussions of the treatment of women and the dismissive nature of the diagnosis of "hysteria."

Entertainment Weekly rated Polanski's adaptation the tenth scariest film of all time. I'd say that, as an autonomous woman, the film might actually be tied with The Stepford Wives and The Ring for first place in my book.

I think I might have to move on to The Stepford Wives sooner than I'd intended.

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