There are two major traditions when it comes to vampire fiction. In the first and older conception of them, they are out-and-out monsters, demons lusting after mortal blood from beyond the grave. Examples of this would include Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot or the original Dracula to some extent. The second tradition humanizes vampires, focusing on the men and women they once were rather than the supernatural beings they have become. Interview with the Vampire is of the latter camp, one I admit I have had little patience for in the past. Anne Rice won me over, however, with her fascinating study of the impact immortality and the supernatural might have on the mortal mind, as well as her startlingly poignant prose and elegant narrative style.
The point that I want to convey most strongly concerning this text is that it is far more artistic and nuanced than (fairly or unfairly) many readers may expect of the vampire genre. Rice is elegant, classy, and clever in her use of language. If I had to choose a word to describe the prose, it would be lush. Honestly, that’s the best descriptor. It’s very centered on imagery, much of the wording is very sensual (in every meaning of the word) and there are layers to nearly every moment in the plot.
The trouble with this fact is that while some readers will very much enjoy the striking imagery and philosophical depth, others may find it a bit slow. There is a decent plot here, but at times it is rather slow-moving and even enjoying the book as much as I was, I began to wish Rice would just move it along. She has a tendency to languish a great deal of attention on relational issues between her characters, so much that occasionally the prospect of a nice bloodbath sounds rather attractive just to shake things up.
A lot of this is down to the main character, Louis. His story is simple enough: he’s a wealthy landowner in New Orleans suffering from guilt over his brother’s death. He is transformed into a vampire by the enigmatic Lestat, and the two of them embark on an immortal existence in which Louis questions what it is to be a vampire or an immortal in any sense, inevitably leading to a consideration of what it means to be human and mortal. This is complex stuff, and the issues covered are interesting. In terms of entertainment value, however, there really were times when I wanted to strangle Louis. He is far more a philosopher and observer than he is an actor in his own story, and from day one we see him being pushed around with depressing ease by more forceful personalities. Louis spends much of the novel wringing his hands and crying “woe is me!” and thus cannot avoid looking rather pathetic as a protagonist. In some respects, this adds to the artistic depth of the piece, but on the other hand I must say that it is often difficult to relate to Louis, and easily frustrated readers may turn away from him about halfway through.
For most, however, I would say that Louis or the sometimes plodding narrative, taken as separate issues, would be of negligible importance. It’s when the two of them combine that an issue starts forming. Louis’s infatuation with Armand, for instance (I maintain that Armand is akin to cyanide for pacing in the early VAMPIRE CHRONICLES), dragged on and on until I longed for the good old days of Louis being bullied into angsty submission by a cheerfully homicidal Lestat.
The issues of a weak protagonist and occasional slow pacing aside, however, Interview with the Vampire is overall an excellent effort, worthy of the reputation it has received as one of the preeminent vampire novels ever written. As I said above, Rice’s prose is phenomenal, and she has clearly given her ideas a lot of thought. I very much enjoyed the novel (more than I expected to, in all honesty), and as a personal aside I went out of my way in the week following to try Cajun foods purely because the depictions of old New Orleans resonated with me so powerfully. This is excellent vampire fiction. Recommended to any fans of the genre, and most who are curious and don’t mind a bit of a slower-paced read.
If Dracula is the king of all vampire fiction, then Interview with the Vampire may well be its prince. Each one had an undeniable influence on the genre, and though Bram Stoker’s novel popularized the image of a hellish bloodsucker, Anne Rice is very much credited with the rise of vampires portrayed not as evil fiends, but sympathetic anti-heroes. Louis in particular was a broody, introspective, tormented vampire long before it became a cliché. By making vampires the protagonists of her novels, Rice flipped the reader perspective to not only explore how it feels and what it means to be an immortal vampire, but to put a spin on our traditional understanding of good and evil, and where vampires fall on that spectrum.
Having read plenty of Rice’s books (including The Witching Hour, which remains one of my favourite books, period) I thought it was way past time that I acquainted myself with the book that made Anne Rice a household name. I’m glad I did.
The premise of Interview with the Vampire is relatively straightforward: in a dark apartment in New Orleans, a vampire called Louis tells his story to a mortal interviewer. Once he was a wealthy 18th century plantation owner in Louisiana who suffered a personal tragedy and so lost his desire for life. In the depths of his despair, he’s approached by a vampire called Lestat, who seeks to turn him into a vampire for fairly pragmatic reasons: he wants the wealth and luxury that Louis possesses, as well as someone to take care of the economic practicalities that come with immortality.
Desperate to escape his loss, Louis agrees to the change, though the ensuing relationship between the two vampires is a tempestuous one. At times the only reason Louis stays with Lestat is that — to his knowledge — they are the only two vampires in the world. But as the years go by, Louis grows more and more disillusioned with Lestat, not only with his refusal to tell him how he in turn became a vampire, but the cruelty with which he takes innocent lives. In an attempt to keep Louis by his side, Lestat turns a five year old girl that Louis has drunk from into a vampire, thus binding the little family of three together forever.
It is this development that brings us Claudia, perhaps Rice’s most unforgettable creation. Sure, Lestat might get all the notoriety, but Claudia leaves the lasting impression. As she’s only five years old, she quickly forgets her mortal life and embraces existence as a vampire — but of course you can see the terrible fate that awaits her. No matter how much she grows mentally and emotionally, she will spend eternity in a child’s body. Just let that sink in for a bit. Eventually Louis and Claudia begin to rail against Lestat’s authority over them, and it is Claudia who comes up with a plan to rid them both of him forever and seek out others of their kind…
Interview with the Vampire is written as an autobiographical account of an extraordinary lifetime, complete with all the randomness, unpredictability and time-skips that you’d expect from someone recounting their experiences over a number of years. There is no sense of any build-up to a climax, rather the book reads like a series of vignettes that examines what existence as a vampire might be like and the complexities of the relationships they have with each other. There is plenty of philosophical retrospection along the way, and you end up with a book in which you could easily flip open onto any page to read an account of one of Louis’s adventures without the need for any context.
What emerges as the core theme (at least to me) was the on-going search for one’s origins. Louis’s search for answers is very reminiscent of a parentless child trying to discover their missing heritage, with the twist in this case being that he and Claudia aren’t so much interested in their mortal ancestors as they are in their makers and the history of vampires. Louis is driven by a desire to understand where he came from, what it means to be a vampire, and how he fits into the belief-system that he was raised with. After the domestic drama of the first half of the book, the second revolves around Louis desperately searching the world for other vampires in the hopes that they’ll be able to answer his questions.
Because of the first-person narrative, we’re thrown directly into the mystery of vampirism. While reading I found myself wondering for the first time — where DO vampires come from? In becoming one, they’re inevitably faced with the mystery of who and what they are; waking up to a brand new world that has a pitch-dark backdrop. Human beings often struggle with identity issues when raised by two parents, so one can only imagine the crisis that would emerge in having absolutely no understanding whatsoever of the history of your species. Unsolved mysteries permeate the book, from Lestat’s shady past to Louis’s brother’s visions to Armand’s true motivations. Vampirism may give you all the time in the world, but it doesn’t promise you any answers.
The final thing that Rice brings to the table is her rich prose. I’ve heard it said that she can go overboard with this in later books, but here it hits the balance between restraint and opulence in describing the world that these creatures inhabit. In fact, along with vampires as anti-heroes, Rice may have also codified, if not created, the idea of vampires as glamorous, elegant, sophisticated, cultured, and fabulously wealthy. But more than that, Rice also provides insight into the visceral and intellectual experience of what it’s like to actually be a vampire: to be turned, to drink blood, to experience immortality, to make another vampire, and so on.
Interview with the Vampire has entered the sphere of pop-culture osmosis wherein even those who have yet to read it are aware of its main characters and plot-points. It provides an intoxicating glimpse into the life of a vampire and all that such a thing would involve, examining the cons as well as the pros of immortality and bloodlust. Be warned that it is quite wordy and never delves too deeply into the questions that it raises concerning the origins of vampires, but by this stage any self-respecting fan of the vampire lore has to read the book that put the entire genre on a new trajectory.
The Vampire Chronicles — (1976- ) Publisher: Witness the confessions of a vampire. A novel of mesmerizing beauty and astonishing force, it is a story of danger and flight, love and loss, suspense and resolution, and the extraordinary power of the senses.
New Tales of the Vampires — (1998-1999) Publisher: Anne Rice, creator of the Vampire Lestat, the Mayfair witches and the amazing worlds they inhabit, now gives us the first in a new series of novels linked together by the fledgling vampire David Talbot, who has set out to become a chronicler of his fellow Undead. The novel opens in present-day Paris in a crowded café, where David meets Pandora. She is two thousand years old, a Child of the Millennia, the first vampire ever made by the great Marius. David persuades her to tell the story of her life. Pandora begins, reluctantly at first and then with increasing passion, to recount her mesmerizing tale, which takes us through the ages, from Imperial Rome to eighteenth-century France to twentieth-century Paris and New Orleans. She carries us back to her mortal girlhood in the world of Caesar Augustus, a world chronicled by Ovid and Petronius. This is where Pandora meets and falls in love with the handsome, charismatic, lighthearted, still-mortal Marius. This is the Rome she is forced to flee in fear of assassination by conspirators plotting to take over the city. And we follow her to the exotic port of Antioch, where she is destined to be reunited with Marius, now immortal and haunted by his vampire nature, who will bestow on her the Dark Gift as they set out on the fraught and fantastic adventure of their two turbulent centuries together.