Sunday 9 December 2018

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin (Part 2)

I've previously discussed the background for Rosemary's Baby — its context and predecessors — now onto the novel itself.

(Spoiler alert. If you have no idea of the secret of Rosemary's Baby, stop reading this post immediately and go and read the book instead.)

Ira Levin's novel is quite wonderful. I've read it a number of times before, but I welcomed another chance to immerse myself in it as part of this complete survey of Levin's work. And a couple of things struck me anew on this reading.

Firstly, just how damned funny the book  is. Secondly, how utterly villainous and what a bastard Guy is. Guy Woodhouse is Rosemary's husband, and he's an actor. And this is the key to his being a villain — and a bastard.

He is entirely ready to sell Rosemary down the river (in this case, the River Styx) to further his career. Knowing what he's up to really hammers this home, as in the sequence where he's forcing her to eat the doped chocolate mousse. (Don't eat it, Rosemary! But she does...)

Guy's actorly self absorption and narcissism and gift for duplicity are all signalled from the beginning, like at the dinner party where Rosemary's friend Hutch is warning them not to move into the sinister Bramford building, and lists the inexplicable frequency of bad things happening there: " 'What's the answer, Hutch?' Guy said, playing serious-and-concerned."

Later, after Rosemary has been drugged and knocked out (the aforementioned chocolate mousse) by Guy, and pimped out by him to be raped and impregnated by Satan, her treacherous hubby finds himself a little spooked by the whole situation.

At this point Rosemary (and the first time reader) has no idea what's happened, but she knows something is wrong between her and Guy. He won't touch her... he'll hardly look at her. 

So she calls him on it. He immediately apologises profusely and pleads the pressure of work —

"It was awkward and charming and sincere, like his playing of the cowboy in Bus Stop."

With adroit and acute little hints like this, Ira Levin is telling us that Guy is not to be trusted and not only is he capable of doing something terrible to Rosemary, he's already done it.

I mentioned how funny the book is. This is not just in its incidentals but also, so brilliantly, in its climax. 

When Rosemary frees herself from captivity, arms herself with a kitchen knife, and goes to rescue her baby, whom she believes to have been kidnapped by Satanists, she discovers instead that her child is the spawn of the devil himself...

Complete with eyes that are "golden-yellow, with vertical black-slit pupils", little budding horns, clawed hands and misshapen feet (there's a subtle and hilarious warning of this earlier when Rosemary finds her klutzy Satanist neighbour Laura Louise knitting some "shaped-all-wrong bootees" for the baby).

When she sees the baby, Rosemary completely freaks out, of course. But within a few pages she's thinking, "His eyes weren't that bad really, now that she was prepared for them." And rocking his cradle. And calling him "Mr Worry-face" and "Andy-candy."

Yup, she's bonded with the little devil. I'd forgotten how utterly Rosemary buys into all this at the end. It's so priceless, and so perfect, and so unexpected. Levin is such a genius.

Oh, and the other cherishable moment in this final scene is when she spits in Guy's face.

Now that Rosemary is embedded with the Satanist's as the baby's doting mother, and accepted that she's spawned the Anti-Christ, I found myself hoping that will she mete out some appropriate punishment for Guy.

I'll let you know when I report on the sequel, Son of Rosemary.

(Image credits: Rich pickings at Good Reads where, as you can see, various publishers the world over have leaned heavily on the film as a source of images for their cover designs.)

1 comment:

  1. As much as I love the novel (and film) I've never had much interest in reading the belated sequel!