Happy 50th, Baby Satan! - Rosemary's Baby turns 50 in 2018: Summary and Review of Ira Levin's 1968 Novel
First published in 1968, Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby will celebrate its fiftieth birthday in 2018. A good reason to start celebrating and tick this book off the 'to-read' queue.
I expect that most readers of the genre are either familiar with Polanski's film adaptation, have read Levin's novel or, indeed, both. Not much needs to be said about the plot. A quick summary can be found below.
Bloomsbury 2002 Paperback edition of Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby, featuring the artwork created for the release of Roman Polanski's film adaptation of the same name.
Quick Plot Summary
Rosemary Woodhouse becomes the victim of a satanic conspiracy, perpetrated against her by both her neighbours and her husband, Guy. The book starts off with Guy and Rosemary house hunting for a rental property in the Bramford, a sought-after apartment complex in a well-to-do New York City neighbourhood. Having secured a flat in Rosemary's dream apartment, she and Guy, an up and coming television actor, make friends with their neighbours in the building, Minnie and Roman Castevet. Guy becomes ever more attached to the elderly couple, his acting career is taking off and Rosemary falls pregnant with their first baby. All in all, joyful times.
But all is not as it seems and cracks are apparent from the start. Rosemary feels controlled by the Castevets, her marriage to Guy becomes strained for similar reasons, she finds herself subjected to patronising behaviour and has to endure an extremely painful pregnancy. She eventually starts to take control and connects the dots thanks to a mysterious book on witchcraft and satanism bequeathed to Rosemary by her recently deceased friend and surrogate father, Hutch. Yet, the Bramford conspirators remain ahead of the game, usurping and preempting all her efforts to escape the situation.
As Roemary’s friends and family are either cut off or killed off by the Bramford coven, she is completely isolated by the time she eventually goes into labour. Despite her newborn initially being removed from her, Rosemary goes on a hunt for her son and locates him in the midst of a gathering of satanists in the Castevet’s flat. Finally allowed to face her devilish offspring for the first time, Rosemary succumbs to her maternal instincts, accepting her role as mother of Baby Satan, who comes suitably equipped with tail, horns and claws.
Rosemary's Baby: Book vs Film
Polanski, who wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of Rosemary's Baby, is often credited with having created one of the most faithful adaptations in cinematic history. This is understandable, given that Levin's book reads like a screenplay. According to Polanski, it took merely one month to adapt Levin's novel.
When reading the descriptions of the apartment and its decor, I was immediately reminded of Polanski's film, of which I can only remember fragments. Not recollecting the film's entire plot I remained interested in Levin's novel throughout. Reading the book ended up fulfilling a purely utilitarian purpose for me in the end: Filling in the gaps I couldn’t remember from the film. I consequently visualised both Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes at all times, especially when the characters engaged in dialogue. I would say that both Levin's novel and Polanski's adaptation have to be viewed as distinctive, yet inseparable. When reviewing one, it's impossible to ignore the other.