Occasionally you may be lucky enough to read novels in the places where they are set. The Vampire Lestat is set for a large part of the story in Paris which is where I happened to be when reading it.
On reading The Vampire Lestat, my thoughts settle in my mind like the thick snowflakes falling in front of the Notre Dame, and they settle on the idea of an exquisite, noble eighteenth century Frenchman and a fatally seductive vampire. In Anne Rice’s novel, Lestat walks through the dark streets of Paris like a tortured angel, once a mortal but now thirsty for mortal blood. Anne Rice recreates Paris on the tipping point of revolution exceptionally well. As a Frenchman born into a world that whispered, shouted and then executed revolutionary ideas, Lestat is a rebel mortal and in turn becomes a rebel vampire. He shuns the devil and wants to be good, but his idea of good is in accomplishment rather than in deed. He says himself that he wants to be good at being a vampire. The gloriously dark scene where Lestat takes two victims, a mother and child in the dark recesses of the gothic Notre Dame cathedral, shows how this vampire is free from the superstitions of the old world. Lestat, like the new ideas rising in France and Europe, believes in a secular society and is in what can only be described as despair when Christianity as he experiences it, provides no comfort. Lestat’s questions begin as a mortal and are only increased as an immortal vampire. He searches for the truth about his vampire kin and travels to Egypt and eventually New Orleans in the New World.
Anne Rice does not simply present vampires to shock and horrify us, but presents the vampire aesthetic which is beautiful, rich and sensuous alongside chilling deaths drained of blood and the idea of the Savage Garden, indiscriminate and cruel yet at the same time gloriously beautiful. Lestat does discover other vampires in the underworld of Paris and Les Innocents and he is disgusted by their primitive and superstitious ways ruled over by the Vampire Armand, not searching for answers or experiencing life’s beauties and riches. The Vampire Armand nearly destroyed by a revolt of his coven, is forced to change and use Lestat’s aesthetic to create the Theatre of the Vampires, where art and vampires conceal each other. Lestat loves the mortal fragility of his friend Nicki, Nicki accepts the mortal world and accepts death as part of life much more easily than Lestat who seeks something greater than life with the promise of death. The vampire Nicki is destroyed by his own abhorrence at what he has become and the moral implications of what he must do to survive. Lestat, by contrast, embraces his vampire world because it is so enchanting and bestows upon him an experience of life that is beyond the constraints of the human world. It also feeds his ego and makes him super human and beyond the mundane.
Lestat’s journey moves on to find the vampire Marius who, it could be said, is his vampire grandfather. Marius’ story takes the vampire legend back into Europe’s history, into the times of the Celts and the rule of the Romans and another world forced to change. The Celtic tribe feed the vampire as a ritual for the Gods and weave the vampire into their own spiritual ideas. Again the vampire uses ritual and spectacle, aesthetic, to survive and the twin ideas of good and evil in the mortal world. Marius is guardian to two ancient Egyptian vampires again at once horrifying and beautiful and with the story of Osiris Lestat discovers Gods and vampire legend interwoven and related in some mysterious way. Lestat finds out more about his vampire heritage, but seeks more answers. He wants to know whether an understanding of what created the vampire can be of value to the mortal world. Lestat understands that the ultimate questions about existence and God and the nature of good and evil are not his vampire questions, but his mortal questions. It is what he felt when he fought the wolves as a young man in rural France, a sense of closeness to the divine. The Savage Garden is not just where the vampire exists, but where humans exist too; Eden after the fall. The mortal world holds all that is evil and good, ugly and beautiful, but essentially it is wild and untamed because man sins and I suppose Anne Rice being a Christian would say because man turns away from God. I do not read The Vampire Lestat as a Christian but as a Humanist, so find Lestat’s search for answers intriguing, but without Christian meaning for me personally. I find the search is part of the answer, ongoing and never fully realised, and that Lestat’s existential journey is something that is easy to identify with.
It is fitting that Rice takes Lestat to what was considered a new world (er, there were people living there already), a secular, egalitarian and importantly modern world. Lestat is modern in eighteenth century France and modern in twentieth century America. He craves new ideas, sensations and experiences as much as he craves mortal blood. It is also fitting that Lestat becomes a rock star in twentieth century America, this again is the aesthetic and works well, except I do find it a little clumsy at the end, maybe it is too much of a cliché; vampire and rock and roll. I understand it is a novel about vampires which established many contemporary ideas about vampires in their more twenty first century manifestations, so it is only a cliché to me out of context.
All in all I did enjoy The Vampire Lestat and especially where Rice has set the story in Paris; the seduction of eighteenth century France is difficult to resist despite its horrors and I see Lestat as a tragically beautiful, romantic Byronesque character searching for the meaning of his existence and in turn human existence. I think reading the novel in a snowy Paris in the St Germain area may have helped, so with that in mind I am looking for sponsors so that I can read ‘Our Man in Havana’ by Graham Greene to gain the full reading experience. Anyone?