Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Omen, by David Seltzer. Signet, 1976

Ever since this book & movie came out in the 70s, I’ve heard about how scary it was. I was very disappointed in it now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.

American ambassador to England, Jeremy Thorn and his wife Katherine, after a couple of miscarriages, are having a baby. But when Thorn gets to the hospital, the priest in charge tells him the baby has died. But a mother with no next of kin has just died giving birth. The baby is healthy and has no one to take it. Will Thorn adopt the baby, pretending it’s his own, lying even to his psychologically fragile wife? Yes, yes he will. He never even sees the body of his own baby.

Four years later, bad things start happening around Damian. The nanny commits suicide at his fourth birthday party. A new nanny appears the next day out of the blue, without anyone calling the agency. Katherine begins to get neurotic as the boy gets closer to the nanny and withdrawing from her. A priest follows Thorn, babbling strange warnings. A paparazzo who follows Thorn finds ghostly images in the photos he takes; on the nanny before her dramatic suicide, on the priest who follows Thorn. Animals fear Damian, except for a mysterious black dog that keeps getting into the house. Churches induce a hysterical fear in him. What is the child? Is he the antichrist?

Sadly, the book didn’t induce even mild fear in me. I think the problem is that you have to believe in Satan to be scared by this book, and I don’t. So while I felt tension, waiting to see who lived and who died, it couldn’t really creep me out. The book has flaws, too. The characters are two dimensional; no one is really likable. There is no depth to the story. I think the problem may be that Seltzer was also the screenwriter, and I think the screenplay may have come before the novel. In a movie, things aren’t described for us. The actor’s facial expressions, the set designers, the lighting person, all add the depth missing from the printed word in the screenplay. I think it didn’t occur to Seltzer to add these cues for the novel reader.


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