BOOK REVIEW: “The Vampire Lestat”

“It was enough to make an Old World monster go back into the earth, this stunning irrelevance to the mighty scheme of things, enough to make him lie down and weep. Or enough to make him become a rock singer, when you think about it…”

And this is exactly what Lestat de Lioncourt does in the second installment of Anne Rice’s popular and best-selling “Vampire Chronicles.” Lestat was introduced in “Interview with the Vampire” and is written through the eyes of Louis de Pointe du Lac. He is portrayed as cruel and irreverent. In “The Vampire Lestat,” the eponymous character is still irreverent, but the reader learns that cruelty is a matter of perspective.

This sequel tells the story of Lestat de Lioncourt, and Rice continues her tradition of giving a voice to the previously voiceless. In “Interview,” Rice gives us a vampire who inspires sympathy. In “Lestat,” she gives us a vampire who inspires. The year is 1984 and the world Lestat awakens to is not Orwell’s grim prophecy but a world filled with freedom, beauty and sensuality.

It is a world much different than the one Lestat was born into.

The youngest surviving son of a withering aristocratic family, Lestat defines himself in opposition to his blind father and his simple older brothers. He is a dreamer, passionate, filled with a zest for life, the personification of joie de vivre if only he could escape his own preoccupation with the meaninglessness of death. Lestat also find himself drawn to theater, to the stage, to performing. As a human, he yearned to delight others through acting. He is little changed as a vampire. Even when he becomes immortal, he still searches for the meaning of life, the point of death. His adventures take him to the marble thrones of the most ancient vampires, Those Who Must Be Kept, and their keeper, Marius de Romanus. Lestat meets a troupe of undead thespians: vampires who pretend to be humans pretending to be vampires. Many other immortals come and go in Lestat’s life as he roams through time, including the tortured Nicholas, Lestat’s independent mother, Gabrielle, and, of course, the gentle and sad Louis.

Rice’s style is characterized by luscious descriptions and attention to details. She spends a whole paragraph telling the reader what Lestat looks like: “And I have a fairly short narrow nose, and a mouth that is well shaped but just a little too big for my face. It can look very mean, or extremely generous, my mouth. It always looks sensual.” I find the focus on the mouth to be particularly interesting since it lines up with some older literature (“The Blood of the Vampire”) and, of course, because this generous, mean, sensual mouth leads to the death of many people. As a reader, I’d also say that the mouth’s description is an apt description for Lestat himself.

Rice’s fiction is important for vampire literature for a couple of different reasons, both of which are highlighted in “Lestat.” One, she lets the reader form strong connections with vampires, something very few authors had done before her and something no one has done as elegantly. Two, her work marks a definitive shift in the vampire genre as a whole. During the 1970s and 1980s, vampires were mostly creatures of film, and mostly creatures of poorly made films. As Lestat himself notes, people were tired of Dracula (who is one of the most reproduced characters in all of film history). “Lestat” takes what “Interview” had done a step further. The creature who had been, arguably, a villain in the first novel becomes our hero in the next, a fitting metaphor for how Rice had changed the vampire genre. In fact, Lestat becomes the hero of Rice’s whole series, taking central roles in four of the currently published books, although he’s the only character featured in every single novel.

And for good reasons. “The Vampire Lestat” is seductive in almost every sense of the word. I’ve read this book before, so perhaps I feel nostalgic about it, but reading “Lestat” is very much like talking with an intimate friend, someone who, while telling his story, helps me figure out what my own story means.

Eventually, Lestat gets what he’s always wanted: to stand on a stage and gaze out at crowds of people as they scream his name. His rock music gains the attention of ancient forces, though, and Lestat de Lioncourt may finally find himself in over his head.

“The Vampire Lestat” is Anne Rice at her finest, and I couldn’t recommend a book more, darlings.

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