Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Week Fifteen - Jude

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin (1967)
Recommended by Eamonn Forde

Here's a book I finished on Sunday - Sunday! - but haven't written about yet because I've been up to my ears in writing for readies. But write about it I shall. And for some reason I fancy writing about it in the form of a list. So there.

1. This was recommended to me by Eamonn Forde. Now, I met Eamonn through work, sort of – he is a good pal of Andrew Harrison, my old colleague at Word, and old editor (sniff) at Q. Eamonn is The World's Eminent Music Business Journalist ((c) Neil McCormick, 2010). He has a doctorate in pop (true fact). His spiritual mentor is Blanche from Coronation Street. He has a very rude sense of humour and likes "putting" random words "in" quote marks "within" sentences to flag "up" moments of "ridiculousness". He likes Tayto crisps more than life itself.

2. Eamonn recommended me five Ira Levin books, in order of how much he liked them. I picked the second. I did because this novel the source matter for Jeanette's favourite film in the world. When I told her I was reading this, yes, she squeaked a bit.

3. It's very odd reading a story which you know so well in another form. It's unfair to the book, really. I knew what was coming from the off, and all the hints about unpleasantness flagged up early on...well, they screamed off the page like sirens. The book, therefore, seemed more pulpy than the film – but was it really? It was hard to distance myself from images I knew so well in my mind, and broach the characters without putting their words into the mouths of Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes.

4. The book is very faithful to the film in terms of dialogue. Reading it also made me appreciate how brilliant Ruth Gordon is as Minnie Castavet.  And the dialogue is bloody brilliant. It's so easy to get wrong, and sound clunky. But Levin is the master.

5. Roman Polanski's editing, I thought, made his version of the story more eerie. For instance, there's a lot more detail about Terry here, the houseguest of the Castavets, who – and this is no spoiler for those of you who haven't seen it – dies very early on. This made me wonder if books can't edit out details as much, and leave spaces in the story for us to fill in the blanks. Also, my favourite scene in the film (when Rosemary is on the phone in the phone booth to Dr Hill) didn't have my favourite detail in it in this original text: the sudden arrival of a man who stands in front of the phone booth, with his back to the camera, whose intentions aren't clear. It's a terrifying moment that wouldn't have worked in the book. It's made me "think" about the differences "between" different sorts of "text".


6. There's a bit in the book that didn't make the film about Rosemary going away for a few days to Hutch's cabin, near Brewster. I can see why this section didn't make Polanski's cut, but I really liked it. Levin goes into Rosemary's mind much more in this original story, properly exploring her internal battles about her relationship with her husband. He shows us how she craves independence, but how she feels she should trust people to look after her as that's what women 'should do'. He also shows her acknowledging, more deeply, the fact that he raped her, and how she goes against her better instincts throughout. The book feels much more like a text about feminism than the film, in some ways.

7. I loved how the political climate of the US was pushed a bit more in this book – it really feels like a story from the mid-60s, where the film doesn't as much. I also loved some of the details of Rosemary's earlier life, as a girl fresh to New York from the sticks, and how it gave her back story more depth...although this could also suggest that girls moving to the big city should beware, of course. Like me. Argh!

8.  I liked the eerieness of the inclusion of the papal visit to New York, although I thought the Catholicism sections were a bit too hammy. But Rosemary's dream of the nun early on, and the voices she actually hears...I wish I'd not seen the film at that point. The realisation of its significance later on would have been a "proper jaw-dropper".

9. The ending went on too long. Sorry, Ira. It also made me feel a bit uncomfortable that the idea that a mother's love overcomes everything. It doesn't always. So there. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

10. I really, really liked this book, despite the whole "I've seen the film already" mind-confusions, and I want to read more of Ira Levin now. Although Eamonn's advised me to "NOT read Son Of Rosemary. It will anger you." So I won't. But The Boys From Brazil, The Stepford Wives, A Kiss Before Dying...let me at you.