This would have number three: 'A Book That Was Made into a Movie.
Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
(read March 2015)
I've never seen the film, although I have vaguely heard of it and knew that it was renowned to be one of those creepy-edge-of-your-seat-I'm-not-sure-I-really-want-to-watch-this films. I think this is the beset position to be in when reading books made into films; books are (of course) highly superior to films, and if you see the film first, it spoils it. So, not having seen the film, and not knowing the plot, I chose this for my 'book that was made into a movie.'
I'm glad I did. Levin is a good storyteller. It's not high prose, or remarkable, but it is compelling, with good strong characters and a forceful plot. Some reviews I have read claim that this book 'isn't really that scary.' I disagree; a sense of menace permeates the novel from the very beginning...
Rosemary Woodhouse is a typical sixties housewife. Everything her husband does is his business and she doesn't question it much. She is there to cook Guy's dinner, reassure him when his failing acting career gets him down, and look good to please him. At the start of the novel, they move into Bramford, a place renowned for murders, witchcraft and general nastiness, but the flat is so desirable they ignore all this. The first creepy occurrence is when the recovering drug addict taken in by their neighbours, Minnie and Roman Castevet, commits suicide, much to Rosemary's shock. Events continue with Guy becoming more friendly with the Castevets, to Rosemary's slight bewilderment, and Guy's sudden change of heart in wanting a child. He has a huge breakthrough in his career when his rival goes blind out of the blue. Slightly weird, but enough to ignore. After all, what her husband does is his business.
There's a horrible scene where Rosemary, sedated by drink (or is it the strange dessert that Minnie made her eat...?) is, to put it bluntly, raped by Guy. But rape? No, of course not, not in the sixties by your own husband! What a suggestion! 'I didn't want to miss Baby Night!' Guy says in his defence.
Throughout her pregnancy, things get weirder. Her mentor dies. She is persuaded not to use a conventional doctor. Her new doctor wants to see her at least once a week, and prescribes a strange Tannin root tea. Minnie and Roman become more and more involved. Rosemary is incapacitated by pain. Her mentor dies. Guy throws away a book that had been a present from him. Guy gets bigger roles. She becomes suspicious of the Castevets' motives. But when she voices her fears, she is told she is crazy. Pre-netal, rather than post-natal, psychosis, or something of the sort. She has no one to turn to...
It's creepy, no doubt about it. And you know what the end is long before you get there. But it is, in a strange way, enjoyable. It's not something I would go back to again, but it was a good read and I didn't want to put it down. Maybe I could try the film now...
Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin
(read March 2015)
I don't generally read biography, so when this was suggested as our next book club read I set out with not much enthusiasm, alleviated a bit by the fact that I like reading Dickens. It was (mostly) wonderful! I thought CT got the right balance of telling a story and laying out the REAMS of information that she clearly had about this man. I have visions of her writing with boxes marked with the years of his life piled
about her, each stuffed with letters, train tickets, party guest lists and play bills, knowing that she had to put all that information in without slowing down the narrative. And mostly she does, though I did develop the trick of skimming when I got to yet another drunken rowdy play-acting party by most of mid-Victorian Britain's literary and social crusading people were. Dickens knew EVERYONE, and so of of them seemed to like him, or at least find him fascinating. Even his family, whom he was impossibly awful to, in the cruellest self-deluding way, tended to make excuses for him.
Not really a man, more of a monster, totally taken up with his own ongoing invention of himself as a madly energetic putter-to-rights of the world, pushing ever onwards without looking either to right or left with all his next projects at once, and at the same time running from..? Presumably from the spectres of much that he was writing about, the work house, the debtors prison, family rejection.
So I don't think I'm going to start reading biography as a choice, but if one of Claire Tomalin's others is given me, I will be pleased rather than sigh.