Author: Ira Levin
First Published: 1967
Page Count: 245
Film/ TV Adaptation: Yes*
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Note: Book 1 of two
This book is one of the most subtle and yet terrifying stories in the hall of fame of the horror genre.
*Artful Storytelling Technique *Subtle but frightening
“Like so much unhappiness, this one had begun with silence in the place of honest open talk.” Rosemary Woodhouse is ecstatic when she and her husband, Guy, are able to snag an apartment in the much sought after Bramford building. Though the building has a dark past, Rosemary sees it as a real shot at settling down and starting a family. When her wish of becoming pregnant is granted, strange occurrences begin to unfold until it is hard for Rosemary to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Is she surrounded by kind-hearted, supportive neighbors or are they so attentive because they, possibly being a coven of witches, have selected her baby for some horrific purpose?
This has always been on the back-burner of my ultimate list of horror books that I wanted to eventually read. The Mia Farrow film didn’t really resonate with me and I was always drawn to the obvious classics like The Exorcist or The Shining. And yet, to my surprise, this book felt far more terrifying than many of the horror novels I’ve encountered. A large part of this has to do with Levin’s storytelling technique. There are no creatures that go bump in the night or outright scares, but the reader slowly descends from reality into a dark underworld of witchcraft and Satanism. We are just as blind as Rosemary in terms of what is really playing out in the story which will make you question everything. The other main reason this book is so frightening is that, while the supernatural aspect of it is chilling, it is actually the constant violation of Rosemary in many different forms that hit me in the pit of my stomach. One simply has to remove Satan’s role in the story and you still have a twisted tale of a mother who is not able to have control over the fate of her pregnancy and her child, made all the more disgusting by the fact that people she should be able to trust with her entire being are in on this diabolical plan. The fact that her child may or may not be the Anti-Christ just adds another layer of horror to the story.
This was one of the few books where I kept saying “one more chapter…one more page….one more paragraph” and before I knew it the book was over. This is storytelling perfection because you develop an insatiable hunger to understand what is happening around Rosemary and how everything will turn out, even if you have seen the movie. Time has not damaged the power of this book and I doubt it ever will. Books that tap into primal fears the way this taps into our fear of losing control or not being able to protect those we love, will always entertain because the feelings it evokes are universal. I’d even say pass over The Exorcist; this book is where it’s at if you’re looking for classic horror.
* Film Adaptation: (Starring Mia Farrow 1968), TV Adaptation: (Starring Zoe Saldana 2014)