Ira Levin’s Novels: Ranked

I think it is the perfect time in the year to get cosy in a warm place with one’s preferred hot beverage and read a novel by Ira Levin (1929-2007), an American master of psychological suspense, who was capable of expertly evoking the horror out of the mundane and everyday situations, providing thrills and surprises no one expects. I have always been a fan of his books, which also translate marvellously onto the screen (for example, see Polanski’s film Rosemary’s Baby [1968] or Forbes’ film The Stepford Wives [1975]). Below are Levin’s novels in the order of my enjoyment of them (meaning that the ranking is not based on any objective criteria, but on my own perception of their merit).

Rosemary's Baby Book CoverI. Rosemary’s Baby [1967]

This is my favourite novel of Ira Levin. It is masterfully suspenseful and completely immersive. In this story, Rosemary Woodhouse is a happily married woman living in New York City with her husband Guy, who is an aspiring actor. Upon moving into a prestigious apartment block Bramford, the couple makes friends with their neighbours next door Minnie and Roman Castevet, an elderly couple. Soon after, Rosemary notices strange, overly-friendly behaviour of their neighbours, and Guy’s demeanour also changes. When Rosemary’s becomes pregnant with her first child, her suspicions escalate also because of her very unusual pregnancy; but are her suspicions simply the result of her active imagination or stem from some fact she simply finds hard to accept? 

A Kiss Before Dying Book CoverII. A Kiss Before Dying [1953]

This is a stunning debut thriller by Ira Levin, which is now considered to be a modern classic crime novel. I will never forget reading this book for the first time because it surprised me so much. The novel is about an ambitious young man who has a relationship with Dorothy Kingship, a pretty daughter of one influential man. The young man in question and Dorothy are both students at college. Things start to go wrong when Dorothy finds out that she is pregnant. This little thriller is totally gripping as Levin also clearly shows that he knows how to suspend one’s disbelief. When reading this very clever book, be prepared for some unbelievable twists.

The Stepford Wives Book CoverIII. The Stepford Wives [1972]

In this satirical thriller, Ira Levin centres on one small community and women’s role in it, as well as in their families. The main character here is Joanna Eberhart, who comes to a small Connecticut town to start a more fulfilling life with her husband and their two children. Joanna is opinionated, independent and likes photography, soon making friends with another neighbouring woman. However, she also starts to notice that her husband spends more and more time at a local men’s association, and is surprised to note that some of her female friends’ behaviour changes. Joanna starts to suspect that men in town have a sinister design regarding their wives. This engrossing novel is also the inspiration behind the film Get Out [2017].

sliver book coverIV. Sliver [1991]

Although this book is not as good as the three above, I still found it thrilling, thought-provoking and entertaining. In this book, Ira Levin once again emphasises that horror may be closer to home than you think. The centre of attention here is a high-rise in New York City that becomes to be known for its mysterious owner and a high mortality rate. When one woman rents an apartment in the building, she does not even begin to imagine the consequences of her actions. Many people would not have this book on their best books lists, and it does have some very obvious problems, but it is also one that has its share of surprises, reminding me of Levin’s unputdownable debut A Kiss Before Dying.

The Boys from Brazil Book CoverV. The Boys From Brazil [1976]

Many people would have this book much higher on their lists than me, but I am not usually keen on reading fiction books about the Nazis, especially reading about imagined scenarios involving the Nazis. The book centres around Yakov Liebermann, a Nazi hunter, who receives a mysterious telephone call from Brazil telling him that the famous Nazi Dr Mengele or The Angel of Death is on its secret mission to kill ninety-four men in various countries with some sinister purpose in mind. Despite my dislike for Nazi-related fiction books filled with real characters, such as Dr Mengele, I have to admit that the book by Levin is still imaginative and enjoyable as the author plays interestingly with various possible scientific advances.

This Perfect Day Book CoverVI. This Perfect Day [1970]

This dystopian book is often compared to Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, and for a good reason. The premise here is intriguing – in a distant future there is a society which is governed by the principles of utilitarianism, efficiency and conformity (different races are also eliminated). Free will as such is almost non-existent, and people do not have a say when it comes to major events in their lives. Instead, they are governed by a super-computer UniComp who keeps everyone in check and people are constantly being given “treatments” (drug therapies) to make them happy and compliant. We follow one young man from his childhood to his adulthood as he struggles to come to terms with the ways of the society. Despite its promising beginning, I think the book does struggle to sustain interest in its second half. One other issue I had with this book was one particularly nasty episode in the book involving one female character and forced sexual activity. 

Son of Rosemary Book CoverVII. Son of Rosemary [1997]

I am not a big fan of sequels, especially of those that try to achieve success on the back of very popular stand-alone books. Therefore, I was indifferent towards Son of Rosemary, which is the continuation of Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby. In this book, Rosemary is reunited with her son after many years and finds him “a charismatic leader of an international charitable organisation”. Not only did I find this book a bore, I thought some of the conclusions that Levin draws in the book to be totally ludicrous. I admire Ira Levin very much, but if there is a book that should not exist, it is probably Son of Rosemary

35 thoughts on “Ira Levin’s Novels: Ranked

    1. Thank you! I also wanted to put A Kiss Before Dying in the first place, but then I guess I opted for Rosemary’s Baby because I am also a fan of the film. Now that I think about it, A Kiss Before Dying seems a better novel in many respects.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I liked Rosemary’s Baby, but I didn’t find it all that disturbing. Growing up I had always heard how scary it was, so maybe my thoughts are just relative to those views. I do like, not only in Levin’s books, but in any book, when a writer uses the mundane to evoke fear. I have The Stepford Wives and Sliver, but have not read them yet.

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    1. I will be interested to know your opinion on The Stepford Wives and Sliver, and I do understand you. The true “horror” in those books lies more in some “quiet realisation” that something weird or eerie is happening rather than in any overt “scary” presentation. It is purely psychological in some sense – what one thinks about any odd situation and then finding out that one’s suspicions/biggest fears are actually not groundless but are backed by something really happening. One can even say that the horror is “subtle” there, in a lot of instances.

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  2. Great post! I love ranked lists of related books, and Levin is an author I’ve been meaning to read for AGES. I was undecided between starting with Rosemary’s Baby or The Stepford Wives (they’re referenced often enough that I’m familiar with the themes and plots already, but still want to read for myself)… you’ve helped me decide that I really should pick up Rosemary’s Baby!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy Rosemary’s Baby! If I were to recommend just two books I would recommend Rosemary’s Baby and A Kiss Before Dying. A Kiss Before Dying just blew me away, honestly. I thought it was a very clever thriller.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the recommendation! I really think I’m going to love Levin’s work and will probably end up reading more than two of her books, but I’ll definitely make a note to prioritize A Kiss Before Dying!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great list. Rosemary’s Baby is my favorite urban fantasy novel. BTW, have you ever seen Levin’s play “Veronica’s Room”? It’s a favorite of many community theatres, and guaranteed to give you the heebie-jeebies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I have heard of Ira Levin’s plays and their success, but have not seen any. I imagine it is quite an experience. From the synopsis, Veronica’s Room’s sounds like a complex, thought-provoking and clever play too (I have read now all the spoilers!).

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