Friday, December 7, 2012

Anne Rice: Interview with the Vampire (1976)

"You don't even understand the meaning of your own story, what it means to a human being like me."  So says the unnamed interviewer at the end of the book, after Louis has finished telling his story.  Rice risks being too on-the-nose with this, but it's a risk worth taking, I think, because - especially after decades of sequels and fanhoods - the meaning of this story is always and forever in peril of being misunderstood.

What the interviewer thinks Louis's story means is this:  immortality, and with it immortal passions.  As he says on the previous page, "The love of Claudia, the feeling, even the feeling for Lestat! It didn't have to end, not in this, not in despair!"  All the desperate boy interlocutor can see in Louis's state is transcendence of mortal limitations.

But what Louis means him to understand - what Louis has learned - is that immortality (for the vampire) is just life without relief.  If life presents frustration, disappointment, unfulfilled desire, and finally the waning of desire, capped by the futility of death, immortality simply presents frustration, disappointment, unfulfilled desire, and finally the waning of desire, with no end.  The immortal is doomed to be bored, to achieve Olympian heights of ennui, because if life is meaningless, then eternal life is an eternity spent in contemplation of meaninglessness.

It is a romantic book.  The heightened sensitivities that Louis experiences upon first becoming a vampire are enough to recast the whole myth as a species of post-Aquarian opening of the doors of perception, but I think it's a different generation entirely that she's thinking of.  Louis is Prometheus, claiming for man what the gods have withheld, a full appreciation of the marvels of the physical world.  Rice has chosen her setting carefully to make Louis a product of the incipient Romantic Age and of the New World its most precious project and of New Orleans, the most romantic part of the New World - that's a lot of different kinds of romance tossed in, but it all works.  And at the end what she's achieved is another kind of Romanticism altogether, the Romantic despair of the great poets.

I read it knowing it was the first of a series, and fully intending to let myself get hooked.  But it's that rare first book that makes you not want to read any further.  Judging by how long it took her to get around to writing a sequel, one assumes that she never meant this to be a series:  indeed, it's hard to imagine how she could have.  If we take Louis at his word, this is inevitably the story of every vampire - immortality must do this to everybody.  The only way she could make a sequel is to make Louis a liar or a fool - someone who doesn't even understand the meaning of his own story.  And this book is so powerful, its final vision of despair is so majestic and persuasive, that I'm going to have a hard time believing anything she writes to contradict it.

(But I'm halfway through The Vampire Lestat now.  I'm ready to be proven wrong.)

1 comment:

Matt said...

I read more of those Chronicles than I'd care to admit (wait, does this count as an admission?), and my memory is that the trajectory they follow is to get much more encyclopedic and over-the-top and fanservicey. The whole scene actually really reminds me of the world of American comics: Interview is the Golden Age, which lays down the rules; then the rest is Rice playing with the rules, bending them, retconning them, winking at the audience and giving them a character who'd do what THEY would if they were a vampire, rather than just moping around. (And IIRC Lestat in particular has some dialog making it very clear that this is what going on. He embodies the Marvel/DC Silver Age version of the Ricean vampire concept. If there is any Anne Rice character who would appear on a comic book cover about to get married to a gorilla, it's Lestat.)

Are you aware of the personal tragedy in Rice's life that coincides at least timing-wise with the creation of the novel version of Interview? I don't know how Rice herself sees the connection, but I find it hard to ignore the parallels to Louis's feeling that he is trapped in a world from which all joy and meaning has been drained, denied even the release of death.