Monday, April 9, 2012

{review} a kiss before dying

Ira Levin A Kiss Before Dying (1953)

 
He had discovered that she liked to be called 'baby'. When he called her 'baby' and held her in his arms he could get her to do practically anything. He had thought about it, and decided it had something to do with the coldness she felt towards her father.
I have raved over and over again about how brilliant are Ira Levin's books {REVIEW; REVIEW; REVIEW}. A Kiss Before Dying was his first book and I am in awe of how good it is. It is almost impossible to describe without giving away what happens, but in the simplest terms it is structured in three parts. In the first we see events from the perspective of the killer, whose carefully wrought plan to marry the rich daughter of a morally upright copper industrialist goes awry when she reveals she is pregnant and his only escape seems to be murder. In the second part, the girl's sister decides to investigate her sister's apparent suicide. I think we know that this can never be a good idea... And I am not going to say anything about the third part as it would give everything away.
The characterisation is superb. Here's the killer:
Viewing himself again as he refastened his jacket, he wished he could as easily exchange his face, temporarily, for one of less distinctive design. There were times, he realized, when being so handsome was a definite handicap. As a step, at least, in the direction of appearing commonplace, he reluctantly donned his one hat, a dove grey fedora, settling the unfamiliar weight cautiously, so as not to disturb his hair.
And one of the sisters:
She rented a two-room apartment on the top floor of a converted brownstone house in the East Fifties. She furnished it with a great deal of care. Because the two rooms were smaller than those she had occupied in her father’s home, she could not take all her possessions with her. Those that she did take, therefore, were the fruit of a thoughtful selection. She told herself she was choosing the things she liked best, the things that meant the most to her, which was true; but as she hung each picture and placed each book upon the shelf, she saw it not only through her own eyes but also through the eyes of a visitor who would some day come to her apartment, a visitor as yet unidentified except as to his sex. Every article was invested with significance, an index to her self; the furniture and the lamps and the ashtrays (modern but not modernistic), the reproduction of her favourite painting (Charles Demuth’s My Egypt; not quite realistic; its planes accentuated and enriched by the eye of the artist), the records (some of the jazz and some of the Stravinsky and Bartók, but mostly the melodic listen-in-the-dark themes of Grieg and Brahms and Rachmaninoff), and the books – especially – the books, for what better index of the personality is there? (The novels and plays, the non-fiction and verse, all chosen in proportion and representation of her tastes.) It was like the concentrated abbreviation of a Help Wanted ad.
As in Levin's other books, he proves himself to be the master of the surprise twist and I am still slightly stunned from the one two-thirds through this book. 

Rating: 4/5.


    

4 comments:

  1. I really must read more Levin, because I thought this was just stunning. That second section in particular was almost unbearable!

    ReplyDelete
  2. That second section was so tense. Absolutely chilling. It's incredible that this is the standard at which he started out!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is one of the few of Levin's books I haven't read (also haven't read This Perfect Day.) I must must must get to it!

    ReplyDelete
  4. It was fabulous, Jenny. I must read This Perfect Day too (and then I've still got Sliver and Son of Rosemary to keep me going)...

    ReplyDelete

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