Rosemary’s Baby: A Review
Much like Henry James’s Turn of the Screw, Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby weaves ambiguity throughout the story to keep the reader guessing and propel the story to its shocking, but not entirely unexpected conclusion. Throughout the novel, the main antagonists Roman and Minnie seem strange. Nothing too out of the ordinary but definitely strange. Levin’s use of the protagonist is wonderful. She suspects something but because her dreams are finally coming true (new apartment, new baby) she chooses to ignore her anxiety. The atmosphere surrounding the characters seems very much like a stale version of the atmosphere in Great Gatsby: sterile, polite, not too intrusive, obsessed with reputation and courtesy. For these reasons, Rosemary never fully questions the people surrounding her until it is too late. Also, because of the point of view—third person limited—it is equally possible Rosemary is insane. Doubtful, but possible, and this additional ambiguity adds depth to the story. Levin also does a good job of building suspense—first the notion of the apartment house and its crazy occupants, then the introduction of the slightly weird but sort of okay neighbors, then the Tannis charm and Hutch’s coma, etcetera. Nothing to big at first, just enough to make the reader interested in degrees without jolting the reader out of the story. This last part is important. Slamming the reader with supernatural elements early on would ruin the illusion of the story. By introducing the elements in degrees, we are like Rosemary: cautious and suspicious but because we have nothing to confirm our suspicions, we must search on for evidence to see how the story ends.
The only problem with the story is the climax—the revelation of a mass group of Wiccans in the apartment. The description of the witches is baseless and seems to be taken from a third-rate horror story in a Just For Fun publication. It’s sloppy and felt like Levin didn’t do enough research or spend enough time to make the coven of witches seem legitimate. It didn’t ruin Rosemary’s Baby but it came close.
Finally, a note on Levin’s style: this book should be introduced to every beginning writer. Levin’s sentences are basic—subjects and verbs. Two or three dependant clauses at most. Nothing too fancy. It reads like a dream. His style also gives the novel a matter-of-fact tone, like this is business as usual, which increases the ambiguity within the story.
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