Published in 1976, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire revitalized vampires in the American conscious. Prior, we had Nosferatu and Dracula, but for the first time, a vampire was no longer a lurking creature but the focus of the story. Set in contemporary New Orleans, the novel opens on a nondescript room. In it are “the boy” (a reporter) and Louis (a vampire). The boy, who never gets a name and is likely a young man instead of a child, is collecting interesting stories on his tape recorder. Instead of finding Louis, the vampire seeks out the boy to tell his story, as it’s an opportunity he wants.
1791 is when Louis’s story starts. He was a twenty-five year-old plantation owner in New Orleans, had slaves from Africa, and was the head a household including his mother, sister, and religiously fanatic younger brother. When his brother pleaded for Louis to sell the plantation and give him the money — something God told him to do — Louis laughed. He had thought building his fervently religious sibling a conservatory would calm his spiritual hysteria, but it had not. After Louis laughed at his brother, the young man stood at the top of the stairs and then was at the bottom. Did he commit suicide? Did the devil push him? Louis was wracked by guilt because he was a devout Catholic and would have believed anyone else who told him God spoke to them personally.
This is how the vampire Lestat finds Louis. Not wanting to live and too afraid to die, Louis allows himself to be taken by Lestat, who ultimately wants access to Louis’s plantation and wealth. Shortly after meeting, Lestat turns Louis into a vampire, too, but is disappointed by his new protegee. Vampires develop companions, almost like a long-term marriage, which is why they stay together. The problem is Louis feels too much. Despite being “born to darkness,” he is too human. For years, he only feeds on animals. Watching Lestat play with humans before killing them sickens Louis, and Louis’s questions about God and the devil, morality and love, frustrate Lestat — possibly because Lestat has no old wisdom to impart, no mysteries about vampires that he can teach. I mean, Lestat is a vampire that wants the comfort of wealthy humans, so he’s shallow. Louis wants to leave Lestat.
During one night of total desperation, Louis decides to feed on a human — a child, about five years old, who is crying over her mother’s dead body. Lestat catches Louis in the act and is utterly cheered by the sight of his protegee, after four years of drinking the blood of animals, sucking on a human. But the little girl, Claudia, does not die. And in an effort to keep Louis with him, Lestat makes Claudia into a vampire. An ersatz child. A distraction. An innocent to protect from Lestat’s vicious hubris and disregard for human life.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know the plot (albeit with minor changes) because Anne Rice helped write the script. It’s a wonderfully emotional story that makes readers question what one would do with immortality. Rice suggests vampires only find meaning in pairing off with the right partner. Some vampires find companions for decades. Others wait until the right companion comes along, longing for that other creature to show them the meaning of existence so it seems worth it to live, to not walk out in to the sun and die. I find the story compelling, wondering what will happen to all of the characters, primary and secondary, while the story masticates themes of love, evil, and what is a life worth living.
“I am evil with infinite gradations and without guilt.” — Armand
Simon Vance’s felt like the right voice narrator for the audio book at first, drawing out the sentences slowly in a way that invokes a person who has all the time in the world (as immortals do). However, since Rice creates mainly male characters, I found Vance’s voices would blend a bit. I never felt he captured Claudia properly, but how would a grown man sound convincingly like an eighty-year-old woman trapped in a five-year-old girl’s body? Plus, if you’ve seen Kirstin Dunce in the film, you know no one can out do her rendition of Claudia.
Claudia’s tiny character is one most enticing, as she never got to live as an adult human. She asks Louis what it’s like to have sex, to walk around unaided. She believes she has been damned in a useless form for eternity, and other vampires see her as an abomination. How problematic it is, indeed, to create a vampire that cannot care for itself, but Louis doesn’t want to reveal Lestat as their inept creator and in front of these carefully chosen vampires. Besides, Claudia and Louis have a secret. . .
A wonderful novel that uses an interview as a way to discuss a life lived for over 200 years. Will the reporter shock the world with what he’s heard? Will he take away the right lesson? Will we?