Walking Out of the Interview (With the Vampire)

by Arthur B

The Anne Rice classic becomes increasingly awkward to revisit as time goes by.
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In retrospect Interview With the Vampire is a bit of an oddity among Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Whilst subsequent books are absolutely in love with the figure of Lestat, going out of their way to make him into a Byronic antihero, the vampire being interviewed here is Louis, a former New Orleans plantation owner who was dragged into vampirism by Lestat back in the 18th Century and who in his narration clearly thinks of Lestat as an abuser. Whereas later books in the series are positively obsessed with arcane vampire backstory and the sort of lore explored in Queen of the Damned, this introduction to the series has none of that - Lestat and Louis know very little about the wider world of vampirekind and don't learn an enormous amount during the novel.

What you get instead of all that mythology jazz, then, is an existential exploration in astonishingly purple prose. Louis is thrust into an existence he didn't ask for and which nobody can adequately explain to him, and a life in which he would rather not hurt others to perpetuate his existence but often finds himself doing so anyway. That's undeath for Louis, but it's also life for all of us.

Where I get off the bus is the part where Lestat bullies Louis by turning a five year old girl that Louis had become fascinated with, Claudia, into a vampire - or rather, the aftermath of that. Lestat and Louis end up adopting her as a creepy quasi-daughter, and her response to becoming a vampire is to adapt to that gruesome lifestyle creepily fast. Since she's a vampire, she can psychologically mature but will never physically grow up, so in subsequent section of the novel she's this deeply disturbing killer whose appearance as a small child is a mere facade for immortal horror.

So far, so good. What throws me off is the constant suggestion that Louis wants to sexually abuse her, or perhaps actually does abuse her. Louis is not overtly depicted as doing anything sexual to Claudia, mind - but he is never overtly depicted as doing anything sexual with Lestat, and Rice has said that we are supposed to interpret them as having a gay relationship, and the textual suggestions that this is the case are if anything milder than the textual suggestions that Louis wants to molest Claudia. There's already something a bit off about how he describes her before she's turned into a vampire, but there's also the way he makes a big thing about how they liked to dance together as “Father and Daughter, Lover and Lover”, and contextually that seems to come early on in their interactions, not after she's supposed to have psychologically matured. (And that isn't cherry-picking, mind, this comes from the heart of a section where Louis dizzily gushes over his feelings about Claudia.)

Rice is getting into tricky enough territory later on in the story with the whole “decades-old woman with mature desires in a five year old body” thing. In general, I find it difficult to trust authorial gambits to try and rules lawyer one’s way around age of consent; I’ve ranted about this before but in general I feel like if you are in a position where you're saying “It's OK, I don't really want to bang a five year old because actually they're of the age of consent and just look exactly like a five year old" then you need to step back. As a general rule in life, if the only thing stopping you being a rapist is “Well, actually...”, then you are at best already on sufficiently dodgy ground that you badly need to correct course, and at worst you simply are a rapist and aren’t admitting it. The fact that Louis is overtly thinking of himself and Claudia as lovers that early on in their relationship is what makes me throw my toys out of the pram and quit reading the book - it's just too much.

Admittedly the intended reading may be that this is a bad thing and we're not supposed to endorse Louis’ subjective point of view here. There's other ethical gaps in Louis’ worldview - he guilt trips himself about a lot of murders but sees absolutely nothing wrong with him having been a slave owner. (This I was able to accept because, of course, Louis is an 18th Century gentleman and the fact that he expresses the prejudices of his upbringing is unsurprising and appropriate.) With the Claudia stuff, I hit the point where I didn't trust Rice enough any more to assume that that would be the case, and when you stop trusting an author then your relationship with a book is pretty much done.
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