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.