Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat is the second (and probably best-regarded) of her VAMPIRE CHRONICLES. The Vampire Lestat is probably the seminal work of vampire fiction since Bram Stoker. Much of what was implied in Interview with the Vampire is made concrete here as Rice broadens and deepens her mythology, all the while creating one of the archetypal figures of the genre.
The first thing one should say about The Vampire Lestat in comparison with Interview with the Vampire is that if you spent the first novel sighing to yourself that all of this was rather good, but Louis was a whiny sort of fellow who liked to talk more than to act, you shall be overjoyed with this installment. Lestat is the vital, charismatic hero that Louis was not. If he loses some of Louis’s tragedy and philosophizing, he makes it up in the simple fact that he is from the first page a more relatable character. The narrative style of Lestat’s book is faster-paced and more direct than that of Louis’s, but leaves ample room for Rice’s trademark sensual imagery and dense characterization.
As always, something to be aware of when opening an Anne Rice novel is that if you are going in expecting some sort of monster bloodbath, you are likely to be disappointed. For better or for worse (it’s largely a matter of opinion), Rice is far more interested in the relational side of things than she is in the action. There are no instances of imaginatively gory killing sprees or daring vampire-on-vampire swordfights. Some readers may consequently find the book a little slow or wandering, but on the other hand, I think there are just as many (if not more) who will revel in its emotional depth.
Rice novels are like holiday chocolate: they’re rich, surprisingly sensual, and usually rather dark. The text, like Lestat himself, appears to be almost entirely concerned with deep, slow-moving emotions, teased and titillated until at last they begin to drift in the depths. Lestat is far more easygoing than Louis but his story is objectively far from light material. Rice does interesting things with that here, from a purely literary perspective, choosing her words with care particularly in the action scenes. The fight between Lestat and the wolves early on is a striking example of the way she uses her imagery to evoke a slow dread and sympathy for the boy who can possess such attitudes. To clarify, I do not mean to put The Vampire Lestat on a pedestal of intellectual brilliance. It is not necessarily a book for the Umberto Eco fan club to discuss at their next wine and cheese party. It does, however, try for a different emotional frequency than do most vampire novels, and for the most part it succeeds.
The book is not without flaws. Anne Rice is at her best when she is purely relating Lestat’s history. When she is setting up plot elements for the next book, the writing style dips a little in quality, as though she’s lost her rhythm somehow. The Vampire Lestat is a book within a book in format — that is, Lestat writes a book about himself, which is reproduced within the broader course of Lestat informing us about his exploits in what was the modern day when Rice wrote the book — and the framing narrative is far less impressive than the story it contains. I should also note that for all I’ve said on the subject of slow-moving emotion being an interesting choice and emotional depth being well and good, sometimes the book drops out of what might be called “deliberate” speed, and just becomes plain old draggy. This occurs particularly surrounding Armand’s history and Lestat’s painfully drawn-out, angsty world tour with Gabrielle.
In summary, I must recommend The Vampire Lestat because it is in so many ways a delightful book, alive with a powerful voice and a masterful command of language and symbolism. Rice manages to make the humanized vampire work for her (not an easy task), and on top of that provides some real depth of emotion and philosophy. The reader will come away believing that perhaps he or she understands a bit more fully the idea of living forever. While it is not a perfect novel, it is an excellent example of more-or-less contemporary vampire fiction and a must for fans of the genre.