Rosemary’s Baby is famous in a way that few stories are. Pretty much everyone has heard of its plot, the book or the movie, and I certainly had stuck in my head the line from the movie (about an intended nursery), ‘It’s perfect for a child’.
What I had never done was read it, nor any of Levin’s books (who also wrote The Stepford Wives, A Kiss Before Dying and The Boys From Brazil). I recently re-read Grady Hendrix’ excellent primer, Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of 70’s and 80’s Horror Fiction, except this time I made a list (so expect many more horror reviews!).
I read Rosemary’s Baby in one evening, almost in one sitting. Its clear, crisp prose hides a multitude of horror that slowly creeps up on you, and I use that word very specifically: I found this book very creepy.
Rosemary and Guy Woohouse move into the Bramford, a fantastic, old and very exclusive New York brownstone/block that has been split into apartments. Guy is an actor and Rosemary sets about doing up the house from magazines and planning a baby, in that typical 50’s housewife manner.
What sets this book apart is the way Levin approaches the topic of Satanism and Satanic Cults. That is very slowly and out of the corner of one’s eye. It again creeps up on Rosemary, all of it explainable by rational means, or so it seems.
The book is quite disturbing. Rosemary’s impregnation by Beelezbub – which she thought was a dream – wasn’t half as disturbing as her husband the next day saying he had sex with her when she was passed out drunk because they were trying for a baby and it was “Baby Night”. Right then and there, you know something is seriously wrong. The most disturbing bit of that is though she is pissed off about it, and even says the word rape, she lets it go. And it just gets worse; she spends months in pain from the fetus, contradicted by those around her, and convinced that nothing is wrong, all the while becoming more and more isolated from her friends, and anyone who can help is sidelined.
This book is full of emotional manipulation and gaslighting. Of friends being enemies. Of being totally alone with the horror of an unwanted pregnancy (and yes, I think Levin is drawing a parallel here – an exaggerated one, but nonetheless, a parallel that I just fully realised when writing this review). It rockets towards its satisfying conclusion that manages to retain its credibility, in the face of the spawn of Satan and cultish neighbours.
A disturbing, quick read that, as the introduction by Chuck Palahniuk pointed out, was the first to shift the horror from some remote castle to an apartment, any apartment. One just like yours. Recommended.
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.