This is how you write suspense. I want every single suspense author, aspiring or established, to read a Levin, study it, write an essay on the techniques utilised and its degree of effectiveness, then write their suspense novel.
The road to good suspense doesn’t jolt you along and isn’t filled with plot holes, it’s a smooth ride to the top before being pushed screaming off the cliff. When I was reading ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, I could feel the noose tightening around my neck, I knew the drop was coming but I didn’t know when it would and that’s how suspense should be written. It shouldn’t be written with cliffhangers at the end of every chapter, leading to a jerky plotline.
Again, I already knew the big plot twist; ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ has been around long enough and Mia Farrow’s eye-popping scene in the film is pretty iconic. But that didn’t stop me from desperately turning the pages to find out what happened next and that speaks volumes about Levin’s skill as a writer.
Like ‘The Stepford Wives’, there were a thousand characters all gearing towards the final goal. And every word, every sentence, every scene Levin writes has been carefully chosen to cultivate his big finale. Levin at no point loses sight of building this amazing crescendo.
He drops little hints at the beginning with half-burned letters and superstitious stories of awful things happening, like dead babies found in basements. The story morphs from eccentric neighbours to an uncomfortable pregnancy to religious paranoia. The threat is usually so unbelievable that even we the readers ignore all the signs and are just as outwitted as poor Rosemary; we don’t know if we should laugh or fear the antics of the Castavets.
I haven’t read many horror novels to be able to comment on this aspect of the story, I guess this is a side effect from my dislike of fantasy but I enjoy that the supernatural component did not distract us from the plot, Levin at no point was using the satanic threats as a means to shock his readers but rather to provide a credible enemy.
If released today, I’m ashamed to think Levin would not have the same success; satanic cults aren’t controversial or as fear-inducing today as it was versus the 60s. But the value of this novel isn’t in the shock factor but Levin’s ability to handle suspense and suspicion.
On Another Note
I didn’t know Levin had written a sequel to ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ titled ‘Son of Rosemary’. But the fact that it’s not as well-known as its predecessor is a signal to me that the sequel probably fell to the trap of the author trying to capitalise on the success of his first novel.
With that in mind, I decided to read the plot on Wikipedia, promising myself if I liked it, I’ll read it in full. I didn’t think I’ll be missing too much since I already knew the big twists for ‘The Stepford Wives’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and I still loved it so I was confident it would be the same experience.