Discussing… Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying

It has been another slow week reading. I have a stack of books I have started but can’t seem to muster the will to finish – always frustrating!

To get over the rut I decided to take a break and instead revisit a favorite work, Ira Levin’s classic debut novel A Kiss Before Dying.

I previously reviewed the book on the blog. Since writing that post I have seen the 1955 film adaptation and so a part of the video discusses what I think of that adaptation and why I believe you should read the book first.

What do you think of A Kiss Before Dying?

7 thoughts on “Discussing… Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying

  1. It’s a stone cold classic.

    But, what are the books you are getting stuck on? That seems like an interesting topic of discussion, books I could not finish. Obviously only interesting if the books have a reputation or were recommended by someone sane.

    My recent examples
    Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
    – I read No Country For Old Men and thought it a bit pretentious in style. This too. But in particular the lack of quotation marks. Struck off the list.

    Hog’s Back Mystery, Crofts
    – wooden prose, and a general lack of vividness. Might try it again.

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    1. Some of it is mood, some attention span.

      I tried Death in the Aisle by the Lockridges and found it hard going. Unimaginative setup, bland mystery and nothing to really grab hold of. Miss Pinkerton simply didn’t match my mood – I will probably give that another go soon.

      Boucher’s Rocket to the Morgue interested me but I feel it isn’t the sort of book I can pick up and put down. It demands an attention that my work schedule isn’t allowing at the moment.

      There are a few others but suddenly I made a bit of progress with one today so it seems the dose of Levin did the trick.

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  2. I was hoping for some actual discussion of A Kiss Before Dying in the comments! I remember buying and reading the paperback in the 70s (like many others at that time, wondering “What else has the author of Rosemary’s Baby written?” and his publishers were quite rightly capitalizing on that). I especially remember the shift in the middle part, watching out for the killer, and realizing — oh, I don’t know his name! Very artfully done, to conceal it for so long without that fact stocking out.

    And I saw that it had been filmed, and I wondered how that was possible. Now, just in the last couple of years, I’ve seen that first one, and know how. Not satisfyingly, is the answer. Aside from the losses that come with dramatization, it’s really just not very good. Even Joanne Woodward is not what she later became. I’ll give Robert Wagner credit for using his pretty-boy-movie-star image here very effectively and appropriately. But as a whole, it just doesn’t come to life. And you’re 100% right, when one sees the movie first in a case like this, one’s reading of the book afterward is inevitably poisoned.

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    1. Brad at Ah Sweet Mystery did a great post a while ago discussing Levin’s entire body of work. I think it is striking how willing he was to do something different each time. I wish there were more mysteries in his ouevre, particularly given how he nails this one!

      I have been surprised plenty of times when reading but that revelation is perhaps the only time I can ever recall gasping out loud when reading. The way he avoids revealing it is clever. I love the way he basically sets the reader up to feel they are ahead of the story and that they have spotted a big clue while hiding something even more significant in the background. Wonderful misdirection!

      I would say that for all the inadequacies, the 55 is far better than the more modern adaptation. As you say though it doesn’t come to life, although I do think it nails the moment of that first murder.

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  3. I’ll have to look up that Ah Sweet Mystery post. It’s very true how he did something different each time. And even (in my opinion) an unsuccessful effort like The Stepford Wives (the book always seemed like an outline for a book yet to be written, and neither movie works) still gave a new phrase to the language.

    His next-best work in the suspense genre, I think, is the play Deathtrap. (Not the movie, though it’s not without merit.) It’s a little masterpiece of what we would now call “meta,” constantly turning what we see into a fictional construction, and then vanishing up its own tail at the end. Unfortunately it’s become dated in a particular way that makes it unlikely to revive except as an extreme period piece. (And, for a change, because society has gotten better in certain respects.)

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    1. I haven’t seen Deathtrap but I will have to look to see if I can acquire the script given it is unlikely to be performed near me anytime soon. I quite enjoy when things go meta so it sounds promising.

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      1. It’s not hard to find, it’s been published in both trade and acting editions. I have a fatal soft spot for the meta myself.

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