Classic Review: The Vampire Chronicles
Vampire literature diverged early on from the mainstream of horror to become a genre in and of itself. It provided the backbone to the paranormal romance genre of today, kickstarted the urban fantasy genre that had previously made only tentative forays into the real world, and spawned a great deal of the adult interest in historical fiction to boot. When you go back to when vampires first came out of the coffin we have books like Dracula and Carmilla that were undeniably rooted in the Gothic genre but if you want to talk about Vampire Fiction in the modern era there is one author who needs to be acknowledged; Anne Rice.
Rice’s Vampire Chronicles hearkened back to the overblown purple prose of the gothic texts while still maintaining a more modern sensibility. They also involved something that you very rarely see in modern works, they were written by an author who was deeply in love with her creation. I am not saying that most authors don’t love the worlds and characters that they create, I am just saying that they do not seem to be in romantic love with their protagonist in the same way that Rice was.
This creates an absolutely fascinating combination of factors because despite the Vampire Chronicles being written as one long love letter to her hero Lestat, it is also written almost entirely from his perspective. In unskilled hands, and with no variation of perspective, this would have left us with a bizarrely self-interested and arrogant protagonist. Instead we are allowed to see Lestat from less flattering perspectives when other point-of-view characters are introduced while still recognising the elements of his personality that are an inexorable draw. Rice loves Lestat and even the characters who hate him feel the same magnetic attraction.
The style of these books is not going to be for everyone, modern sensibilities have moved on considerably from the way that Rice likes to write into a cleaner and less evocative mode of prose. If you can tolerate the writing for long enough to fall into its rhythms then the Vampire Chronicles feel like you are sinking into a down-stuffed mattress, and being completely enveloped in its luxurious depths. For some people it feels like drowning and they struggle to escape, but for others it is glorious.
Even I have my upper limits as far as Rice’s prose go. While I have read through the Chronicles as far as Memnoch The Devil and picked at some of the later stand-alone books, I have to pace myself whenever I try to read them. The writing is so overblown and richly textured that it can become impossible to discern what the hell Rice is actually trying to say, the meaning and plot submerged in the ceaseless description, emotional insights and more than occasional soliloquys on the nature of eternal life. In one way, it is a very clever literary device, as her vampire characters are said to be so overwhelmed by their new senses that it makes it difficult to navigate the world but in every other way it means that Rice’s books have to be a rare heavy treat rather than earning a regular spot on the menu.
The most accessible of the series is the first book, Interview With the Vampire; it is centred on a younger vampire recounting his life to a journalist and remains the only book that most readers ever touch in the series. The following two books, The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned are one continuous story and should really be read as such. The story of those two books stretches back to pre-history and carries on to the present through the entire massive lifespan of the vampire species. They are rich with detail, both historical and imagined, and form a tidy trilogy with a satisfactory ending. After those three books… things start to get a bit weird. They diverge from the original themes and begin introducing a wider world of the supernatural and religious for Lestat and company to interact with. As such they will need to be discussed elsewhere.