First off, the titular vampire the boy is interviewing: Louis. He’s an emotionally conflicted vampire who doesn’t want to merely embrace the mindless savagery of his condition but to find a higher purpose to his being. He cuts a rather melancholy and miserable figure indeed but, though he makes some rather silly mistakes, he’s not without a heart or a brain. He can benefit others when he puts his mind to it and prefers to solve his problems by reason rather than by force. However, that doesn’t obscure his biggest failing – he’s an abysmal judge of character, which allows him to get sucked into a partnership with Lestat. He does seem to learn from that mistake and get free of him but he becomes much more cold and detached. Still, it’s development and, if he wasn’t so miserable, I’d like him.
I liked Lestat the first time I read this book but, this time, he really rubbed me up the wrong way. Though he would like everyone to believe he is an intelligent seductive predator, he is at heart a big child who wants grandeur simply for the sake of having it. To make matters worse, he hasn’t the faintest idea of how to get it, requiring him to force Louis to work out the details. He does remind me a lot of Damon Julian and his reliance on Sour Billy Tipton despite the seemingly clear levels of superiority but Lestat is too whiny and petty to be scary. In the end, he doesn’t learn any lessons and becomes a victim of his own fixed thinking.
One example of how short-sighted and petty Lestat can be is the creation of Claudia, a five year old girl turned into a vampire simply as a way to keep Louis at his side. Like acrimonious parents, Lestat only saw what the act could do to Louis and not what he did to Claudia. Claudia can never grow up physically and, in some ways, she keeps her childish mentality of being fixed on the idea of adulthood and on getting what she wants no matter what the cost. When she’s finally free from Lestat, she shows just how much she’s learned from him by pressuring Louis into making her a mother figure and acquiring items to make her feeling like an adult. Like Louis, she was seeking something she could never have but is much more of a driving force behind the story than either him or Lestat. She does develop as she lives through the ages but we only see it skimmed over through Louis’ descriptions rather than played out.
The last character I want to focus on is Armand, the head of a vampire coven Louis and Claudia come across in Paris. He leads a crew of vampires not as a force of evil but as a way of maintaining order and of preserving cultural artefacts that might have otherwise been lost. He is a much more balanced voice of reason than Louis and is quite content with the idea that vampires exist for no reason. He provides a stabling influence for Louis during a time of turmoil but sadly just drops out of the story without warning.
I can’t say that many of the characters are completely sympathetic and I’d like to see more development from them but, then again, their lack of development is kind of the point.
5 out of 10 drops
More emphasis is placed on the emotional conflicts of the characters than on the historical context but, when it does choose to show its historical knowledge, it is mostly accurate. For instance, the language Louis’ slaves speak is French patois, a low-regarded vernacular version of French often spoken in the Caribbean and Jamaica, also known as Creole.
A lot of people wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that it was Interview with the Vampire that brought vampire mythology to New Orleans but there is a vampire myth that predates this book by centuries. In the 1700s, there was an enigmatic gentleman called Count St Germain, who was handsome, rich, talented and never seemed to look older than forty in portraits or in person. Decades later, a man called Jacques St Germain appeared in New Orleans who was also handsome, rich and talented and bore a striking resemblance to the Count of so many years ago. The tale goes that he attacked a female guest and vanished completely before the authorities could catch him. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was the inspiration for Lestat.
Another vampire-related myth of New Orleans comes in a group of French women that moved to New Orleans during its early inception. The story goes that they brought several coffin-shaped boxes which were then locked in the attic of a convent in the French Quarter for purposes unknown. Anyone who tried to investigate this met with misfortune or violent ends. Even without the vampire connection, New Orleans would make the perfect hunting grounds for one. Throughout the years, it has one of the highest murder and missing person rates in the U.S.A. so a victim dying in mysterious circumstances wouldn’t raise many eyebrows.
As for the paintings in Armand’s gallery, fact-checking those are a bit hit and miss. I can’t find any suitable paintings from Trani or Breughal but Bosch has made some suitably horrifying works including visions of hell and Biblical scenes. Very appropriate for a vampire’s hideout.
Lastly, when Louis and Claudia come across Central European methods of vampire detecting and killing, they’re all nicely accurate for the time. We all know about the old stake in the heart and decapitation but the book also includes the method of making a white horse ride over the grave to detect a buried vampire. Though black horses are often used and a virgin boy must be riding it but, in Albania, white horses are used as well. Nice to see some more obscure vampire mythology emerging.
Looking up the research brought up some interesting stuff and I like learning new things when I’m reviewing them so, even if not a focus of the plot.
8 out of 10 drops
I think this might be the only vampire book I’ve yet read that deeply explores the question of why vampires exist in the world. Are they created by God or the devil? What evolutionary purpose do they serve? Those are the questions that plague Louis all through the book and remain unanswered. It’s an interesting question and one that everyone has a different answer for. Just like the meaning of human life, really.
The vampire clichés are debunked and confirmed very early on, as is any disbelief in vampires from the human interviewer. The crucifix and garlic myths are put aside in favour of the sunlight and, at one point, we do see how sunlight affects vampires differently depending on their age. The book also adopts the idea that some victims are preferable to others: the younger the person is, the more sustaining their blood is. In addition, drinking a person to the point of death is fatal in this book. In other books, drinking blood from a dead person is never pleasant but I don’t think I’ve seen any other cases where it could kill a vampire. I don’t think I’ve seen vampires that can acquire scars either. As we see in a rather gruesome example, vampires may be able to survive attacks that would normally be fatal to a human but don’t heal instantly and can acquire eternity-long scars too. I don’t think I’ve seen that yet.
Even though a lot people see Lestat and co as perfect examples of the sexy vampire tripe (and, on the surface, they are), the book somewhat deconstructs it. While Lestat is superficially charming and seductive, he has no time for books or the pursuit of culture but embraces rich things simply for the sake of looking good.
A few vampire books, like Night World Volume 1, have included vampire families but none so far have contained vampire children. This book definitely considers it a bad thing. It’s clear that Claudia was created out of sheer spite and desperation on Lestat’s part and he lives to regret it.
Arguments about the ethics of killing humans in order to survive surface again and again in vampire fiction. This is no exception. Louis is very reluctant to kill and lives on rats and chickens (which apparently is very sensible when travelling) and this causes a nice bit of conflict with Lestat and with himself. Most books don’t really explore this conflict very much or show a character moving from one side to the other like Interview with the Vampire so I have to give it credit for that.
While most people wouldn’t call it an original book, I give it credit for exploring or exploding the clichés, though I would have liked a more practical narrative tone and less flawless looking vampires
7 out of 10 drops
The purple prose isn’t just limited to the characters. It gives us some lovely descriptions of New Orleans and of Paris in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. It portrays New Orleans as a place of contradiction: a place where old-world architecture stands side by side with the old, where every kind of classic style is represented and still endures and where beauty and pestilence go hand in hand. A kinder portrayal of the city than in Fevre Dream but not by much. It still makes the presence of slaves, inequality and rampant disease very clear.
It also gives nice descriptions of Paris, though, in both places, the author avoids the most important buildings and historical events, only briefly glancing over the French Revolution. Nice to see an author not showing off their historical knowledge when it isn’t needed.
The vampires themselves are rather well developed despite their cliché outward appearance and the author adds things that most others wouldn’t consider. For instance, their vampires dream and very vividly while they’re in their coffins, the amount of sun damage varies according to the vampire’s age and the change to a vampire isn’t just physical but psychological as well. It is established that most vampires are lone beasts and perhaps that’s not surprising when one sees how well collectives end up.
That said, I would like to see the Theatre de Vampires group explored more thoroughly, rather than focusing on Armand and glancing over the rest. Their performances are daring and Armand is a magnetic personality but we see very little more from them, which is unfortunate. Though it is not fully expounded upon, the one thing that is focused upon is a sort of law on their kind. Though most things (like killing humans) are permissible, the big taboo among the Parisian vampires is killing one’s maker, a vampire’s equivalent of patricide.
The one addition that doesn’t get talked about is the inclusion of the classic Central European vampires who are certainly not seducers but animalistic monsters. Louis and Claudia encounter them and, though no old-world vampires has the capability to explain how they come to differ, Claudia puts forward some interesting theories such as going mad from oxygen deprivation after being buried alive. It’s a nasty thought indeed. Being buried alive when you’re mortal is one thing but being buried alive when you can’t die is a horrifying prospect.
The story focuses more on the characters than the world around them but the inclusion of old world vampires is a nice touch. It really could do with more emphasis on the history of the Theatre de Vampires and more world building in general.
6 out of 10 drops
The story is told in the form of the eponymous interview Louis gives an unnamed boy for a radio show. To be honest, this wraparound feels a little unnecessary, especially with little interruptions needed for the boy to change the tape or Louis asking if he wants to take a break. Thankfully, most of them are saved just for the beginning and the end. It would be utterly unbearable if it carried on throughout the story.
Louis’ story is one of searching for purpose in his life. He starts out as an entitled plantation owner, jarred out of his indolence by the death of his brother and spurred to look for a higher purpose in life. Unfortunately, he falls in with Lestat who makes him a vampire simply for the sake of owning his money. Louis uses his immortality to try a number of higher goals: altruism, romance, parenthood, religion, peer relations but none of them lead him very far. The question of why vampires exist pervades but is never satisfactorily answered. In fact, unanswered questions are a pervasive theme in the book whether it’s people pretending to know all the answers, people searching for answers or people coming to terms with the fact that there are no answers. Which is the explanation that Louise accepts in the end which, though it has a ring of truth, feels very hollow. He also fights to stay human and maintains a diet of animals until his willpower cannot hold out any longer. To be honest, this mental struggle really ends unsatisfactorily for one that dominated the narrative of the first part.
The story isn’t split into chapters but into three parts, dividing Louis’ time in New Orleans from his time travelling with Claudia to his time in Paris. I’m making it sound clear cut but it isn’t. The split is a lot more arbitrary than that and the fact that there are few chapter breaks makes it hard to decide on a good point to leave the book if you want to take a break.
Out of the three, the third part is easily the slowest. Once Lestat is out of the picture and Louis and Claudia are comfortable in Paris, the story drags on at a snail’s pace, detailing discussions with Armand that should be interesting but just feel very boring. It was a relief when a big twist came when it did.
The story, while promising at first and including a few deconstructions of clichés, runs out of steam near the end and doesn’t give satisfactory conclusions to the major conflicts.
5 out of 10 drops.
Overall: 31 drops – A Negative