I’m not much of one for horror movies or stories, and the one time I tackled Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire, probably a decade ago) I had to put it aside fairly quickly. It was just too dark for me right then.
Lately, I’ve been reading some fun, extremely light-hearted little mysteries featuring all kinds of crazy characters, particularly vampires. And you know how it is when you get “into” something – you want more, even if more is not forthcoming. I ran out of books in the series, and while browsing the discount shelves at Barnes & Noble came across a copy of Anne Rice’s Blood Canticle on the cheap. A quick flip through the introduction caught my interest, and the book came home with me.
I’m coming into the saga of Lestat near the end, so I don’t know anything about his backstory beyond what I’ve picked up from movie clips and cultural reference. But the Lestat of Canticle didn’t have the same horrifying feeling that I got from the Lestat of Interview. This was a basically decent creature, a good soul struggling to overcome several lifetimes of accumulated sin. Not once throughout the entire book did I feel horror.
The resulting narrative was fascinating for a number of reasons, the primary one being the complex dance of morality. Are these creatures of the night inherently evil? Do they have souls? If so, can they be saved? Does the fact that they feed on only “bad” people in any way redeem the fact that they hunt humans – and can you truly be condemned for doing what you have to do to survive? Is the road to Hell paved with good intentions, or might there be a detour along the way to Heaven? Lestat’s character development, even seen in this limited scope, was what kept me thoroughly engrossed in this novel.
I was drawn in by the unique voice of our narrator, Lestat, and the way that Rice chose to use that voice. It’s a book that is very much self-conscious of being a book; in fact, it starts out by chastising readers for not better embracing the immediate previous book in the series. Bold? Distasteful? Amazing? Hypnotic? All of these things…? Throughout it all we are continually conscious of the fact that we are reading a book “by” Lestat, written to be sold and read. It’s a very odd and somehow enchanting conceit.
It’s evident, of course, that Anne Rice is working her way through the loss of her husband in this book. From what I understand, after her husband’s death she moved away from her horror fare and started writing much more Christian texts, and this is clearly a part of that transition. The over-arching theme of salvation and sainthood feels like Rice’s argument with herself – can these terrible things that I wrote in the past be redeemed? I created a sinner, an entire world of sinners, and spread darkness into the world – can I turn that around into a vehicle of light?
This book (and presumably the rest of the series) is made especially interesting to me by the fact that it takes place in New Orleans. Having been there makes an enormous difference in my mental painting of the scene, and even helped me visualize the characters more fully. I’m not sure anyone could ever really understand the French Quarter and the odd people who dwell there without having seen it, and I wonder if they will ever see what I saw – what Rice saw – again. I know that particular part of New Orleans wasn’t as heavily affected, but it’s all the same organism…
There’s a little branch-plot in this book that seemed wholly unnecessary to me, but I suppose Rice felt the need to have some sort of goal/quest/climax in there. Pshaw. 🙂
I own Rice’s Violin from another bargain sale, and I may give it a shot sometime soon. I’ve heard that it’s very, very strange – more autobiographical, more uncontrolled, seemingly insane. Some people claim it’s unreadable. I don’t know that I’ll be a fan of the earlier vampire books or not, but I’m intrigued by this seemingly unfettered glance into the mind of a genius writer going through massive life changes.
Overall, Blood Canticle wasn’t a tremendous book, and it’s not the sort of book you’d find on a Top ___ list, but it was a fascinating read. Not for everyone – it’s still a fantasy/horror, and the writing style is definitely unique – but it might be for you.