Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Review: Son of Rosemary


Son of Rosemary
Son of Rosemary by Ira Levin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Rosemary's Baby 33 years on. Look elsewhere for a plot summary. There is one key thing I'd like to say: the book isn't as bad as many reviews would lead you to believe.

Still, there are problems, and I think their number is five. Five. Five:

1> Going into it expecting horror, then discovering that 99% of the book has no horror element. Adjust your expectations. There is more shopping, hairdressing and neck kissing than horror; the novel is darkly comic in tone. Not bad, but disappointing if it is not what you expect.

2> Some of the writing is great. Some is sloppy:

"Actually, I was going to call you in a few minutes," he said, sitting down in a side chair with a mug of his own. "Before Rene," he said, nodding toward the desk, "I was talking with Diane."

Too many unnecessary "saids" in this book. I've always said that.

3> The ending throws people. It's quite clever though. Many people see it as a cop out. I argued with someone that they misread it, and it is not what they think - it is really hell. I pointed to some key clues to back up my case. They pointed to a different meaning to those clues. We were both right, so there is no definitive answer, evidence can go both ways, and the reader can choose. That's obviously the intention on the author's part. The fact that most readers choose the lamest interpretation perhaps says more about the reader. I try to give authors the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Levin wanted it this way, dangling the obvious banana to see who snatches at it, but with a different gift for those who think more before reacting.

4> A key plot item about candles that seemed obvious from the first mention. This is a difficulty with handling genre expectations, and the experiences of people who grew up surrounded by plots and stories and stereotypes. What does an author do? Play along and you are accused of being predictable. Reverse expectations (as with most of this book; Thomas Harris' "Hannibal" ending is tonally similar) and you get disappointed uproar.

5> Character soup. Many minor characters (the GC crew) differentiated just by their name, it feels. I kept being confused by which was which. In some ways they're meant to be faceless (that's what floppy Satanic cowls are for, right?), but it seems strange that there's more character in a nurse who appears once in the opening chapter than in more major players later. At least one of them is in a wheelchair, that helps.

So, the book is flawed. Mary, Mary, quite contrary. And yet ... I read it twice. Which suggests that in spite of the things I raised above, there is still something compelling here, in the writing or story. If that can be achieved even with those five story issues then there's some spark here that many writers would do well to discover, especially if it can then be presented differently. A book that's as conflicted as saying "Gee, Mom, you give me the horn," but also wryly aware of its issues and revelling in them anyway. If you're the Son of Satan, maybe you can get away with that kind of literary somersault.
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3 comments:

Alyson said...

I won't take offence at being accused of taking offered bananas. But maybe the author could consider if he was tooooo subtle?

Alyson said...

PS A cowl doesn't cover the face, but the top, back and sides of the head.

Karl Drinkwater said...

Thanks for the comments. I've edited the cowl reference to be more specific - you're right that not all cowls hide the face, but the ones I was thinking of were the ones in the novel, this type:

http://www.allartnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Jean-de-La-Huerta-and-Antoine-le-Moiturier-Mourner-no.-78.jpg

https://img0.etsystatic.com/000/0/6159337/il_fullxfull.239558844.jpg