It’s so stressful to read this book knowing how it all turns out! It is brilliant though and identical as far as I can see to Polanski’s (boo!) 1968 movie adaptation (which I reviewed here).
I thought that most people in the world would be familiar with this story, even if they haven’t read/seen the movie but I had to explain it to two colleagues this morning, so maybe not. It’s extremely effective and tense, especially when you know what’s coming and you’re collecting clues as they appear.
I spent most of my reading experience either screaming at Rosemary to run far away or shuddering because it made me feel so uneasy. It also features one of the most terrifying sub-genres in horror to date: the uninvited guests (see Mother! for another perfect example of this).
But in a nutshell: Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse are young and in love. When an opening at the desirable Bramford building suddenly materialises, the pair are stoked and quickly move in. The Bram is a Gothic revival building in NYC with a rich history, none of which the couple knows but Rosie’s BFF Hutch does and he’s quick to let the couple in on it (reader, it’s not good). Undeterred and a little amused, things are groovy for a while – well until a young girl staying with the neighbours throws herself out of a window.
Off the back of this tragedy, the Woodhouses meet Minnie and Roman Castevet, their neighbours (and former grandparent figures to the dead girl). The Castevet’s are eccentric with a capital ‘E’ and quickly latch on to the Woodhouses, much to their initial horror. But Guy really starts to bond with Roman, who tells him stories from the good old theatre days which he laps up, being a moderately successful actor and all.
When Rosemary falls pregnant, everything seems as though it’s slotting into place – and even Guy’s career seems to be thriving – but something is amiss and she knows it. Her husband seems distance and there’s something just not right with the pregnancy, or with the care she’s receiving from her doctor and the ever-attentive Minnie. Will Rosemary work it all out before it all goes too far? Will she fuck.
This is a very well crafted thriller with a perfect climax which will haunt you long after you’ve reached The End. Rosemary is a pure and wholesome character that evokes major sympathy. As a woman in the flush of her first pregnancy, she should be comfortable and stress-free but instead she’s slowly working out what is happening to her with nobody really on her side. Or not for long anyway.
Sometimes she’s so astute you want to slow clap her while at other times she very quickly rationalises the weird things that have been going on around her. Several times she has a conversation with herself that is very reminiscent of situations where I have wanted a certain answer, so I’ve talked myself into it. This is hard to read because she’s ignoring the red flags but it all adds to the tension. Guy is the absolute worst, even before he apparently has sex with her while she’s unconscious.
While this book is a masterpiece, it is quite dated in some of its language, particularly regarding people of colour. There’s also a very stereotypical Japanese character in the last chapter. Gender roles are very much, woman at home, man goes to work here too which is fine but also kind of adds to Rosie’s isolation. I wish she had more friends around her!
The story explores themes of maternal love, of witchcraft and devilry – and it is perfect if you ask me. I love the ending, even though it is deeply unsettling and I really just want Rosie and her baby to live a good life, though you get the impression it might be a challenge.
Publisher: Corsair (23 Jun. 2011)
Bought paperback for myself