Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Interview With The Vampire – Anne Rice

Going into Interview With The Vampire, I only really knew Anne Rice by reputation – if at all. I’d heard a lot of women around my age talk about reading her books as a formative experience, sneaking them home from the library and devouring them under the covers, but somehow I missed out on that rite of passage. I’d never even seen the Oscar-winning film adaptation of her most famous book, so I went into it with pretty much a blank slate.

Interview With The Vampire - Anne Rice - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Interview With The Vampire is a gothic-horror vampire novel (duh), styled as a centuries-old vampire – Louis de Pointe du Lac – telling his life story to a reporter. Rice drops you right into the middle of the conversation, or that’s how it feels anyway. I wondered for a minute whether there was an introductory chapter or two missing, because the action takes off before you know what hits you and doesn’t stop.

Louis was 25 years old, back in 1791, when he became a vampire. He was an indigo plantation owner (ahem, slave-owner, but more on that in a minute) grieving the shocking loss of his pious brother Paul. In the midst of a self-destructive spiral, he is approached and bitten by a vampire, Lestat de Lioncourt. Soon, he’s allergic to the sun and sleeping in a coffin and hungry only for blood hot and fresh from the vein.

Lacking any other options for vampire buddies, Louis and Lestat become frenemies. Louis hopes that Lestat will teach him The Ways of being a vampire, but everything Lestat shows him seems either completely stupid or morally reprehensible. Louis feels stuck with him, though – and the fact that they’re immortal, so this arrangement might have to last forever, adds another layer of conflict and complexity. And, it hardly needs saying but I’ll say it anyway: it’s all deeply homoerotic. There’s no subtlety to it at all.

Even though this all happens very quickly in Interview With The Vampire, you’ll still find yourself working through long, long chapters. Rice is wordy, and she loves an ellipsis, which gives you the feeling of reading extended texts from a baby boomer.

Anyway, Louis and Lestat’s relationship is coming apart at the seams. In desperation, Louis escapes to New Orleans, and finds himself drawn to ‘feed’ (sorry, gross, I know) on a plague-ridden five-year-old girl, whom he finds crying next to her mother’s corpse (double gross, but hold onto your hat, there’s worse to come). Lestat is worried that Louis is going to abandon him, so he has the bright idea of also feeding on the five-year-old and completing the process of turning her into a vampire, too. I guess it’s the old-timey vampire equivalent of a surprise pregnancy in Anne Rice’s world. Louis can’t leave Lestat now – they have a baby.

That might be repellent enough to put a swathe of would-be readers off Interview With A Vampire altogether, but what I read about that particular plot point afterwards changed my feelings about it. Rice began working on the short story that would eventually become Interview With The Vampire shortly after the death of her daughter Michelle, at just six years of age. She’s even said specifically, in interviews and so forth, that the young vampire girl (Claudia, in the book) is directly inspired by her late daughter. Knowing that makes the story less horrifying and more horribly sad, for me anyway. What mother wouldn’t want to give her daughter eternal life, even if it meant turning her into a vampire (or, as it were, a fictional character)?

Whether you can stomach the attack, abuse, manipulation, and corruption of a child, described in yearning and tender prose, is just one deciding factor in whether Interview With The Vampire is the right book for you. There’s also the aforementioned homoeroticism (though that endears me to it more, if anything). One of my favourite critical comments on this point came from Edith Milton, writing for The New Republic: “To pretend that it has any purpose beyond suckling eroticism is rank hypocrisy,”. LOL!

What I really take issue with in Interview With The Vampire is the depiction of slavery, and the inherent racism in the narrative. I suspect you’d need a few years to write a thesis that really gets to the bottom of it, especially now with the newer screen adaptation transforming the story with a Black man in the lead. As I read this one, though, purely on a surface level, you’ve got Lestat feeding on slaves and their families, Louis exploiting their fear, and zero question or concern about their well-being or the systemic problem of race-based slavery.

It’s particularly surprising given that Rice seemed to style herself as a chronicler of the plight of the down-trodden. “I wrote novels about people who are shut out life for various reasons,” she wrote in her memoir. “This became a great theme of my novels โ€” how one suffers as an outcast.”

I suppose Rice did try to nod to social justice when she had Louis refuse to feed on his own slaves (he predominantly drinks the blood of animals, making him the vampire equivalent of a vegetarian, I guess), but I mean… he had no issue enslaving them, so…?! Basically, in Interview With The Vampire, slaves are background characters that occasionally pop their heads up to keep the plot in order, they’re spoken about in denigrating ways and treated as disposable resources, and it all just gave me the ick.

Still, I can see the book’s appeal. What’s particularly interesting is the recasting of the vampire as tragic anti-hero, rather than self-evident villain. I don’t know if that was Rice’s intent in having the vampire narrate his own story in Interview With The Vampire (we’re never the villains in our own story) or just an interesting by-product of taking a different perspective, but either way, it works. That’s probably why it went on to sell ten million-odd copies, and spawn twelve sequels. I probably won’t go out of my way to read any more of them, but I can see why others might.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Interview With The Vampire:

  • “I just read this pile. The main character, Louis, is just incredibly whiny. The book has pages upon pages of whining, but I can never really identify what the character finds so loathsome about his creator. The book is painfully descriptive, yet incredibly vague. Save the time and fall asleep in front of the movie.” – Erik Pearson
  • “The first and the biggest problem is the main character – he is so unlikable and such a pushover for about 95% of the story, you can’t just be annoyed with him ALL THE TIME. Most of the negative events in the book are his fault because he’s such an idiot.” – Kindle Customer
  • “In a word: AWFUL! Ann Rice has taken her love for penning overblown sexual fetishes (both hetero and homo-erotic) and single-handedly ruined the vampire as myth originally described the foul demon. Lestat’s character was so lavishly overblown as to verge on the comical. Each scene in the book was more or less a wishful description of an orgiastic costum party.” – J. Pemberton

2 Comments

  1. These Amazon reviews are the most highbrow yet.

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