Why shouldn’t monsters get a chance to tell their side of the story?

Well, they finally got an opportunity in the 1960s and 1970s, and I don’t doubt
this had something to do with the tenor of the times. Marginalized groups were
finally shaping their own narratives, from Selma to Stonewall, and power
brokers had no choice but to take notice. So why not other excluded individuals
and communities: the vampire, the monster, the killer, the madwoman in the
attic? We see precisely this turnabout in novels such as
Jean Rhys’
Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), Truman Capote’s
In Cold Blood (1966), John Gardner’s Grendel (1971),
Stephen King’s
Carrie (1974), and Anne Rice’s Interview
with the Vampire
(1976). These outsiders also had their
stories to tell, and the novelists of the era were determined
to give them a soapbox.

The idea of letting the monster speak was hardly a new
concept. Mary Shelley’s
Frankenstein monster was a
talkative sort, but in later versions of her story he
grew taciturn. Except for
The Bride of Frankenstein, in
which Boris Karloff got quite a few lines, the Universal
horror films were built on the idea that monsters, like
well-behaved children, should be seen and rarely heard.
You could add up all the dialogue from the Mummy, the Wolfman, Dracula
and Creature from the Black Lagoon, starting in the 1930s until the 1960s,
and fit it on a tiny Egyptian papyrus.

But monsters in the 1960s and 1970s played by different rules. In Anne Rice's
Interview with the Vampire, our bloodsucker starts talking…and never stops.
The entire novel, except for a handful of passages of description and
interrogation from the interviewer, is devoted to the first-person narration
of Louis de Pointe du Lac, a two-hundred-year-old vampire. He starts telling
his life story soon after nightfall and is still going strong as we approach dawn
on the following morning. The tape recorder keeps running all night long—
nowadays our garrulous fiend would probably have his own YouTube
channel—and the story never gets dull. Who would have thought a
vampire would make such a fine raconteur?

But let’s also give Anne Rice some credit here. In the spirit of full disclosure, I
must admit that I approached this novel with low expectations. What I knew
of Rice’s personal life and public pronouncements, with their apparent
contradictions and abrupt shifts, led me to anticipate a campy, neo-goth story
filled with outrageous incidents and gratuitous grotesqueries. Before reading
Interview with the Vampire, I didn't know much about the book beyond the
basic premise, and though I hadn't seen the movie, I did know that it starred
Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas and Kirsten Dunst. Nothing here
gave me much confidence in the literary merits of what seemed to be, at first
glance, a trashy supermarket novel.

Ah, how unfair I was! I’m still not nominating Anne Rice for a Nobel Prize
in literature, but
Interview with the Vampire, is a nuanced, introspective novel.
I might call it a psychological novel, or even an existential novel. Our
protagonist, as self-reflective as a Dostoevsky hero, could well be branded as a
failure as a vampire! He hardly puts any attention into finding victims, and
instead cogitates on the meaning of his life—or can it even be called life? he
wonders. He agonizes over his ethical choices, and the metaphysical
implications of his betwixt-and-between status. When he finally meets up
with the wisest vampire in Europe, midway through the novel,  they don’t
waste time comparing blood sausage recipes. Instead he wants to know
whether vampires are children of Satan. At every juncture in this novel,
questions of conscience and responsibility loom larger than macabre matters.
And if forced to sum up the theme of the book in a sentence, I would suggest
that it revolves around whether vampires can find true love in a hostile world.

I’m hardly surprised that this novel attracted a devoted following in the gay
community, and not just because of the intense relationships between the
male vampires in the story. Actually vampires aren't interested in sex, at
least not in the context of this novel—they go straight for the veins, and
neglect the customary erogenous zones. But from every other perspective,
this work resonates with in-the-closet and out-of-the-closet issues. In
particular, Rice explores with insight and sensitivity the inner workings of a
close-knit subculture operating within mainstream society, and probes the
ways the rules of the two groups both clash and co-exist.

The book opens in late twentieth-century San Francisco, where an unnamed
young man has secured an interview with our vampire hero. This opening feels a
bit rushed—we don’t even get introduced to the interviewer, who is merely
referred to as “the boy”—instead our vampire immediately plunges into the story
of his life.  Louis was born in France, but at a young age his family brought him
to a plantation in Louisiana, not far from New Orleans. Here he was seduced by
an older vampire named Lestat, who soon turned Louis into a fellow member of
the undead via a do-it-yourself transfusion. In time, the couple add another
vampire to their alternative family, a young girl named Claudia. But Lestat’s
arrogance and unwillingness to share his arcane knowledge of vampire lore stirs
up discontent on the home front. Claudia eventually kills Lestat—or at least,
believes she has done so—and leaves with Louis on a trip to Europe to discover
their vampire roots. But Transylvania  doesn’t work out quite as planned, and
they soon settle down in a luxury hotel in Paris. Here they hobnob with other
fiends of the night, and Louis finds a new BBF, a 500-year-old vampire named
Armand. But Old World and New World bloodsuckers don’t mix well. I won’t go
into detail, but imagine a conflict between rival Mafia gangs, only with vampires
instead of wise guys.

Presented in this rapid-fire manner, the plot is unpromising. But Rice never gets
bogged down in the gore. Her vampire protagonists are melancholy aesthetes,
and this puts a distinctive and unconventional stamp on
Interview with the
Vampire
. When Louis faces a personal crisis, he heads to an art museum to
contemplate the paintings. Even the crude Lestat spends spare time at the opera
house, or attending productions of Shakespeare. Rice comes up with a clever
plot angle to justify this unusual approach to a horror novel. According to her
taxonomy of monsterdom, vampires possess uncanny sensibilities—this makes
them acutely aware of smells, sounds, colors, and shapes. Hence, even the
lowliest vampire has all the makings of an art connoisseur, and the best put
John Ruskin and Bernard Berenson to shame. As a result, Rice has an excuse to
dwell on the sights and sounds of her settings, and adorn her narrative with a
rich tapestry of detail. This, obviously, puts a burden on her own pen. More
description is not always better description. But Rice succeeds, for the most part.
Her vampires are observant participants, not just heedless killers, and this
combination of blood lust and rich empirical insight imparts a peculiar, yet
appealing ambiance to the novel.

But
Interview with the Vampire is not without its flaws. The plot has enough
holes to fill the Albert Hall. How can a vampire kill and drain the blood of a
victim every day, over the course of centuries, and never excite the interest of
the police? How do vampires set up shop in various luxury hotels, and never
have a maid or servant notice the coffins? I realize that fantasy is built on the
willing suspension of disbelief, but Rice just asks for too much from the reader.  
Yet the biggest shortcoming here arises from the central premise of the novel:
the notion that this narrative is part of an interview is not adequately supported
by the author. The interviewer makes a few token appearances early in the
book, and then disappears for the entire second half of the novel, only returning
briefly at the book’s conclusion. At times, Rice even seems ready to shift over to
a third-person narrative. We aren't told the name of the questioner, or even the
profession, for that matter. I assume that the interviewer is a journalist, but that
is simply a guess on my part. As a result, the framing story never captures the
reader’s interest. Rice tries to take it somewhere in the last paragraphs of the
book, but by then it is too late. It’s hard for us to care about an interlocutor we
never got a chance to know.

But these problems won’t hinder your enjoyment of the novel.
Interview
with the Vampire
could have succeeded even without the extravagant notion
of a taped interview between mortal and monster. Rice writes with more
literary flair than you will typically encounter in a genre novel, and never
resorts to the tawdry tricks of the
Twilight teen tomes. Frankly I am
surprised that a psychological novel of this sort, leisurely paced and often
understated, would find such a large audience. But this bestseller kicked
off a mini-industry, with Rice writing more than a dozen other vampire
books, not to mention various spin-offs and imitations.

In many ways, this author laid the foundation for the vampire mania of the
new millennium. When I go into my local bookstore, I see a whole section of
vampire books. So many, that I would like to put a stake in their heart, and
sprinkle garlic around the shelves. Maybe if we got rid of these, we could make
room for some highbrow volumes, no? But, yes, I’d make an exception for this
tale, which deserves a much better fate than its anemic shelf mates.


Ted Gioia writes about music, literature and popular culture. His most recent book, Love Songs:
The Hidden History
, is published by Oxford University Press.

Publication Date: March 20, 2016

Interview with the Vampire
by Anne Rice
Essay by Ted Gioia
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction
This is my year of horrible reading.
I am reading the classics of horror fiction
during the course of 2016, and each week will
write about a significant work in the genre.
You are invited to join me in my
annus
horribilis
. During the course of the year—if
we survive—we will have tackled zombies,
serial killers, ghosts, demons, vampires, and
monsters of all denominations. Check back
each week for a new title...but remember to
bring along garlic, silver bullets and a
protective amulet.  
Ted Gioia
Check out our sister sites:

The New Canon
Great literary works
published since 1985

Great Books Guide
Reviews of current books

Postmodern Mystery
Experimental works of mystery & suspense

Fractious Fiction
Radical, unconventional and
experimental fiction
My Year of Horrible Reading

Week 1:
Dracula
By Bram Stoker

Week 2:
The Haunting of Hill House
By Shirley Jackson

Week 3:
Tales of Mystery & Imagination
By Edgar Allan Poe

Week 4:
Carrie
By Stephen King

Week 5:
The Passion According to G.H.
By Clarice Lispector

Week 6:
Tales
By H.P. Lovecraft

Week 7:
The Exorcist
By William Peter Blatty

Week 8:
The Woman in Black
By Susan Hill

Week 9:
Nausea
By Jean-Paul Sartre

Week 10:
I Am Legend
By Richard Matheson

Week 11:
Ghost Stories of Henry James
By Henry James

Week 12:
Interview with the Vampire
By Anne Rice
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at
www.twitter.com/tedgioia

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.
Flatland

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian
Hothouse

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

Apuleius
The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.
Crash

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis
Ficciones

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.
Moderan

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.
Babel-17

Delany, Samuel R.
Dhalgren

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.
Nova

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.
Ubik

Dick, Philip K.
VALIS

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fowles, John
A Maggot

Fuentes, Carlos
Aura

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil
Neverwhere

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John
Light

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank
Dune

Hill, Susan
The Woman in Black

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Houellebecq, Michel
Submission

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Jackson, Shirley
The Haunting of Hill House

James, Henry
The Turn of the Screw

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

King, Stephen
Carrie

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw
Solaris

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Lovecraft, H.P.
Tales

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mandel, Emily St. John
Station Eleven

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
I Am Legend

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni
Beloved

Murakami, Haruki
1Q84

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry
Ringworld

Noon, Jeff
Vurt

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Poe, Edgar Allan
Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Pohl, Frederik
Gateway

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Rice, Anne
Interview with the Vampire

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José
Blindness

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert
Mindswap

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary
Frankenstein

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert
Nightwings

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford
City

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer
Norstrilia

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stoker, Bram
Dracula

Stross, Charles
Glasshouse

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.
Slan

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
The Dragon Masters

Vance, Jack
Emphyrio

Vance, Jack
The Languages of Pao

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt
Slaughterhouse-Five

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim
Cloudstreet

Woolf, Virginia
Orlando

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal


Special Features

Notes on Conceptual Fiction
My Year of Horrible Reading
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
The Most Secretive Sci-Fi Author
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List



Links to related sites

The New Canon
Great Books Guide
Postmodern Mystery
Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter

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The Millions
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