Sunday 26 August 2018

The Novels of Ira Levin

I recently stumbled on this series of reprints —  Ira Levin's entire canon of novels, in a uniform edition, with new introductions. And they have led to me rediscovering just what a marvellous novelist he was.

In case the name is unfamiliar to you, Ira Levin is probably best known as the man who created The Stepford Wives, which has been filmed twice — the second time as an appalling comedy — and which has passed into our communal consciousness with its subversive and astonishing take on gender politics.

Rosemary's Baby would be, I imagine, Levin's next most famous work. It was adapted into a classic, and brilliant, horror film which — thankfully — has never been remade. (Although there was a TV mini-series in 2004.)

Probably the best definition of Ira Levin is as a suspense novelist. All of his books have that in common. They are masterpieces of emotional manipulation, and all are beautifully and economically written. They are also, surprisingly, very funny.

Other than that, they're a very diverse group, effortlessly crossing genre boundaries. Some are straightforward crime novels (A Kiss Before Dying, Sliver) others science fiction (This Perfect Day, The Stepford Wives, The Boys from Brazil), others supernatural horror (Rosemary's Baby, Son of Rosemary).

Levin began by writing for radio and television in the 1950s. As a novelist he made a stunning debut with A Kiss Before Dying in 1953, creating a classic which won an Edgar Award as best first crime novel, was promptly filmed, and which has been in print ever since. 

Over a span of 44 years Ira Levin only published a total of seven novels, but he also had a considerable career as a playwright, writing both hit comedies (No Time for Sergeants) and thrillers — Deathtrap is probably his most famous play, and was the longest running thriller on Broadway. But for my money his masterpiece for the stage was the remarkable Veronica's Room.

I'm very grateful to whatever perceptive person at the UK publisher Constable & Robinson (now Hachette) decided to reprint all seven of Levin's novels. The covers vary from the striking (A Kiss Before Dying) to fairly feeble (The Stepford Wives) but they are quite a handsome uniform set, and it's incredibly useful to have them all in print at once.

Plus the introductions, though very brief and also somewhat variable, are a valuable bonus — who knew that Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, was a Rosemary fan? And Jonathan Trigell has some interesting things to say about Sliver.

I hope you find that I also have some interesting things to say about these books. I plan to be writing about all of them over the following months, and at least a couple of Levin's plays, too.

Meanwhile, I urge you to check out these books yourself. You could start with any of them, except Son of Rosemary, which is a sequel. I guarantee that once you begin reading, you will find it very hard to stop.

Mr Levin, more power to you.

(Image credits: all the covers are from Hachette Australia.)

1 comment:

  1. I'm a huge admirer of Levin. My favorite is This Perfect Day, but Kiss Before Dying and Rosemary's baby are close seconds.
    I can't wait to read your take on Son of Rosemary - it's the only one of his I've never wanted to reread.