By LINDY RYAN
After Louis de Point du Lac’s less-than-flattering portrayal of his maker, Lestat de Lioncourt, the Brat Prince himself takes center stage in THE VAMPIRE LESTAT, the second installment in Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles.
Published in 1985 to spend six weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, THE VAMPIRE LESTAT came nearly a decade after the release of INTERVIEW, which received mixed reviews from critics (some praising Anne’s lush and hypnotic prose and others decrying the novel’s “suckling eroticism”), but ultimately captured the still-beating hearts of mortal readers worldwide. Even so, a reviewer for The New York Times bared their fangs at THE VAMPIRE LESTAT, saying it’s, “a lot like spending an entire day in a museum featuring only works by Henry Fuseli – all hung in heavy, gilt frames decorated with curlicues and malicious cherubs. By the end, you’re reeling from both the strangeness and the surfeit of ornamentation.” They’re not wrong—Anne is known for her rich language and love of the baroque, which can sometimes make for a dauting read—but it’s worth noting that THE VAMPIRE LESTAT is, in sum, less one vampire’s story and more a deep exploration of Anne’s entire vampire sociology. It’s a rumination on both Otherness and Immortality, and you don’t get that without leaning into the bizarre.
Narrated by the titular character shortly his reawakening in the 1980s (after a fifty-five-year long sleep during which INTERVIEW has been published as a fictional novel by The Boy), Lestat’s tale is a direct response to Louis’s. As autobiographical narrations with some degree of overlap, both novels share some commonalities in plot and timeline. However, while Lestat does not directly address many of Louis’s claims (he writes, “As for the lies [Louis] told, the mistakes he made, well, I forgive him his excess of imagination, his bitterness, and his vanity, which was, after all, never very great”), he does tell his own version of events—namely, Louis and Claudia’s “trial” by Armand’s coven at the Théâtre des Vampires—and dig deep into his knowledge and understanding of vampiric nature (“I never revealed to him half my powers, and with reason, because he shrank in guilt and self-loathing from using even half of his own”) which often contradicts Louis’s recounting of events. One might argue that Louis’s narrative is driven by ego, while from his humble 18th-century aristocratic origins to his modern-day rock superstardom, Lestat’s is charmingly vain.
Though not officially given the moniker “Brat Prince” until much later in the series, in THE VAMPIRE LESTAT, Lestat cements himself as a flawed but not unlovable hero. He’s indulgent and reckless and certainly arrogant, but he’s also introspective, charitable, and capable of love in great measure. His shortcomings aside, for all his pontifications on evil and death and immortality (and a more-than-slightly Oedipal relationship with his mother, Gabrielle, who becomes his second fledgling) Lestat’s tale is arguably more human—and thus more relatable—than Louis’s. He’s born into a once noble, but now impoverished, family in a country on the brink of revolution. His ambitions are at odds with his father’s will, and with the sensibilities of the time. He yearns for acceptance and, perhaps even more, for actualization. His explorations of life and death, of sexuality and identity, of belonging, and of desire and failure may have begun in the 18th century, but the experiences he endures are timeless. And that, this reader thinks, is the true rub of THE VAMPIRE LESTAT.
If Lestat is the heart of The Vampire Chronicles, then THE VAMPIRE LESTAT acts as its webbed center, connecting strings that knit together the whole of Anne’s universe. As we move through Lestat’s personal past we learn not just about vampiric rules, but unfold a cautionary tale of cause and consequence. We discover how Lestat’s actions affected other’s futures—it was his theater, for example, that Louis and Claudia later discovered in Paris, his ongoing feud with Armand that may have even contributed to Claudia’s demise. We see how old secrets can poison new loves—it’s Lestat’s promise to Marius, keeper of Those Who Must Be Kept, that puts a wall between him and Louis before the fateful events in New Orleans decades later. And we are provided a lesson on inevitability—it’s Lestat’s love of his human lover Nicholas and Nicholas’s violin that moves him to form a rock group when he awakens in the new century.
Lestat’s actions both old and new set the rest of the series into motion when the mother of vampires, Akasha, awakens to his song in THE QUEEN OF THE DAMNED, up next.