by Sara Crow
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.
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.