Thanks, Mr. Levin. I hate it.
I had so many problems with this book. Because I feel the need to vent about said problems, there will be an abundance of spoilers in the review below. I’ll try to keep things as vague as possible, but yeah. Spoilers. If you’re unfamiliar with the story and have any desire to read it without prior knowledge, please skip reading this review.
You have been warned.
I feel like one of the very few people in my part of the world who has never watched the movie Rosemary’s Baby, or at least been exposed to the story. Because I have in recent years developed a love for the horror genre, I’m trying to read some of the backlist of books that make up the genre’s classics. As this is a tiny little novel, barely outside of the novella length, I decided that it would be my next foray into said classics. I’m glad to be able to say that I’ve read it, and that’s about all the good I have to say about this book. I read it. That’s it.
Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse are a recently married couple who find luck turning in their favor when an apartment becomes available at the prestigious Bramford has just become available. The two move into their new home with glee and excitement, exulting in the building’s quirks and motley assortment of tenants. Two of these neighbors, Minnie and Roman Castevet, take the couple in as if they were long lost grandchildren. Rosemary begins experiencing some odd happenings as her husband’s acting career takes off and she finds herself finally pregnant with the child she’s been longing for. But her memory of the child’s conception is hazy at best, and the few details she does recall sound like something from a fevered nightmare so she refuses to see them as real. From there things spiral down for Rosemary. She finds herself consumed by pain and paranoia, and utterly isolated. She believes there is a malevolent force in her life, a conspiracy to steal her baby. And she’s not wrong. This is because her child is not fully human. You see, Guy isn’t the father. Lucifer is.
Okay, let me air my problems with this book. First, Rosemary is an incredibly weak and self-absorbed protagonist, and I didn’t find her the least bit likable. I felt sympathy for her, of course; she’s facing a terrifying situation that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But some of her choices infuriated me. Yes, she did start fighting back near the end of her pregnancy, seeking to extract herself and her unborn child from their terrifying situation. But before coming to that decision, she accepted just about anything she was told or given, even if she protested somewhere inside herself. And when she would make a decision to see a different doctor or stop drinking Minnie’s sketchy vitamin drink, she was fairly easy to convince to change her mind and fall back into her previous patterns. Also, I couldn’t stand Guy. I’m trying to think of a more careless, callous, superficial character, but I’m coming up blank. I wanted to reach into the pages and strangle him, and give Rosemary a slap for not seeing through him sooner. But what really blew my mind was Rosemary’s decision at the end of the book. I was totally baffled by her response, which I won’t get into just in case you decide you do want to read it for yourself.
There were a couple of redeeming qualities to this book which kept me from rating it with one star instead of two. First, Levin had to have a massive set of figurative balls to stick with this ending. It was risky and has been controversial since the book was first published. Rarely does an author show evil winning the day, and that’s what Levin does here. Good doesn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere to vanquish said evil. It actually wins. Second, even though there were many elements of the book that felt cliche, you have to remember that this novel was written before they were cliche, and is more than likely a large part of how these elements have become and remained so prevalent in pop culture.
I can see why other horror fans love this book, I honestly can. But it really rubbed me the wrong way, especially theologically. I believe that the devil is real, and I know that the Church of Satan is an actual religion practiced by real people. My problem here was with how easily Rosemary, a lapsed Catholic, shrugs off this evil while believing that she could fight it singlehandedly. This argument sounded fragile and watery even in her own mind, and I doubt that she truly believed it. Rosemary’s Baby is all kinds of messed up, but it’s compelling, I’ll give it that. Read at your own risk, though, especially if you’re a practicing monotheist. Because Levin knows how to make believers in God feel super uncomfortable.