The Vampire Lestat is the second book in Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles. Told as an autobiography penned by Lestat, it begins in 1984 just after Lestat has woken from a dirt nap of about 100 years. Vampires can do that — dig a hole or plop in a coffin and lay there without blood to pass time if they feel too disconnected from the world. What is it that wakes him? There is something about the music of the 1980s, that screaming hair metal scene that interests him, and he can hear it in his semi-consciousness. How brazen mortals are these days, how godless and fearless. He rises, goes to a garage band that plays a few houses down from where he was sleeping, and impresses them with his vocals. Becoming the new lead singer of their band, Lestat promises to have their faces and music plastered all over the world.
What are we but leeches now — loathsome, secretive, without justification. The old romance is gone. So let us take on a new meaning. I crave the bright lights as I crave blood. I crave the divine visibility. I crave war.
That’s a problem, though. Vampires are never supposed to tell mortals of their existence for all their safety, namely that they cannot defend themselves while the sun is up. But Lestat’s decision to become world famous is rooted in his life-long drive to challenge rules and please an audience. Plus, Louis already broke the rules when he gave an interview to a reporter, who typed out Louis’s story, creating the novel Interview with the Vampire.
Lestat takes readers back to 1780. He is twenty-one and the youngest living son of a marquis. Although his love of learning is encouraged by his mother, his father pulls him out of school at a monastery when Lestat says he wants to become a monk. He’s not religious, but monks can devote themselves to learning, which Lestat loves. Pulled from school and bitter, Lestat runs away with a traveling circus where he catches the performance bug. Again, he’s shamed his family. After reconnecting with a young man he knew in boyhood, Lestat falls in love with their conversations — about philosophy and arts — and the man, Nicholas.
Nicholas and Lestat run away to Paris to live together. Lestat will find a theatre and become an actor, and Nicholas will continue to study violin. But just when things are going swimmingly, Lestat notices a strange man in the audience while he’s on stage. Later, the man takes Lestat and turns him into a vampire — and then the vampire throws himself into a fire and is killed! With almost no guidance, Lestat has to make life as the undead work, and where does Nicholas and the family he left behind fit in? And Nicholas, clearly Lestat’s lover, is important to him. In fact, all male characters appear to be bisexual, making for a rather erotic, sensual read. I say nothing of female vampires as there are so few thus far; I hope that changes.
The Vampire Lestat is a riveting novel that gives readers a determined protagonist and a history of where vampires come from. Through sheer stubbornness, Lestat manages to to find an ancient vampire who protects the original vampires, who have been sleeping for 4,000 years. It is an ancient evil that connects all blood drinkers, and now that Lestat is a mega rock star in 1984 and published his tell-all autobiography, the middle-age vampires (typically 500-ish years old) are maaaaad. Born during times of early death from disease, they see themselves as servants of Satan, functioning like plagues to “cause man to doubt the mercy and intervention of God,” not vain little showboats. But they’re also curious. What happens when the entire balance is destroyed?
While Interview with the Vampire was about religion and morals, The Vampire Lestat looks at tradition vs. progress. Many of the ancient vampires were created pre-Christian times and worshiped as pagan gods. They understand spectacle and the wish to be loved, but don’t broadcast their existence beyond their worshipers. Lestat is having none of it as a new vampire, born during a renaissance of art and atheism. He accidentally destroys a dusty old coven led by Armand, whom readers met in the first book. It is Lestat who suggests they start The Theatre of Vampires in Paris so that they can connect with humans.
Later, Lestat learns that it is that connection to contemporary culture that keeps a vampire from wanting to throw himself in fire or walk in sunlight. In fact, most vampires don’t survive the first 200 years due to the struggle of wishing to interact with humans they knew while alive, watching those humans die, and complete loneliness. It’s an interesting quandary! It made me think more about the way we’re over-connected in 2019, and yet disconnected more than ever. Is this why we’re increasingly experiencing anxiety AND loneliness? Perhaps Anne Rice’s vampires have something to teach us.
Her characters also comment on possession of things vs. primitive living. Lestat likes things and always maintains a beautiful home and owns the latest fashions — totally weird to the vampires who are still wearing the same clothes they had in the decade they were made and sleeping in their own coffins in which their bodies were buried in the cemetery! Ack! I can’t wait to read more vampire chronicle novels in the hopes of getting to know these cemetery vampires better. Given that there are thirteen books total, I’m sure I will. I wonder if they are all metafiction, as The Vampire Lestat is. Though Louis knew he was telling his story, he didn’t predict a the reporter he told his story to would write a book. Lestat tells you he’s writing an autobiography and even comments on Louis’s book, making readers so very aware that they’re steeped in Rice’s world and feel part of something.
A totally enjoyable read that — WARNING! — ends on a cliffhanger! Thankfully, the follow-up book, Queen of the Damned, was published decades ago and is ready for you to read it.