There’s a key term located in the title of this piece: it’s the word “read.”
I spoke to many people about Anne Rice’s most famous work before I began writing this, and more often than not people would say, “Well, I haven’t read it, but I have seen the movie.” And it is in many ways a visually sumptuous film (Rice, who lives in the Garden District, penned the screenplay). But I’m here to advocate for you to move beyond the screen adaptation and get back to the source material.
First published nearly forty years ago, the novel grew out a short story that Rice wrote in her twenties. The book has its own tragic origins: Rice authored Interview with the Vampire shortly after the death, at age 5, of her daughter, Michelle (who serves as the inspiration for Claudia, the child vampire).
Like the film, the monologue of a vampire named Louis de Pointe du Lac is the narrative’s central structure. Louis tells the story of his 200 years on earth to “the boy,” a writer who is recording the interview. And while the protagonist is the self-reflective Louis, New Orleans herself is a main character; she is the catalyst for the relationship between Louis and his antagonist and maker, the cruel and irrepressible Lestat de Lioncourt. Aren’t these names reason enough to read the book?
Unfolding over about 350 pages, the novel provides the extra details that inform the film’s best scenes. And while Louis and Claudia set off to the “old world” in an attempt to discover their vampiric roots, the most important setting in Interview with the Vampire is New Orleans.
1. It captures New Orleans in a single sentence
Early in the novel, Louis addresses the city’s burgeoning cosmopolitanism, and how the visual spectacle of commerce and new settlement produced a distinctive urban space — all in one single, breathless sentence:
“And, of course, the planters, always the planters, coming to town with their families in shining landaus to buy evening gowns and silver and gems, to crowd the narrow streets on the way to the old French Opera House and The Théâtre d’Orléans and the St. Louis Cathedral, from whose open doors came the chants of High Mass over the crowds of the Place d’Armes on Sundays, over the noise and bickering of the French Market, over the silent, ghostly drift of the ships along the raised waters of the Mississippi, which flowed against the levee above the ground of New Orleans itself, so that the ships appeared to float against the sky.” (Pg. 39).
2. Because ‘Twilight’ doesn’t do it like Lestat
While Louis might be both a sentimentalist and a least a little naïve — particularly as a young vampire — his counterpoint, Lestat, is both vicious and manipulative, and together they created Claudia, condemning her to a child’s body for eternity:
“And when I thought your [Claudia’s] heart would kill me and I didn’t care, he parted us and, gashing his own wrist, gave it to you to drink. And drink you did. And drink and drink until you nearly drained him and he was reeling. But you were a vampire then. And that very night you drank a human’s blood and have thereafter.” (Pg. 116).
The most important setting in Interview with the Vampire is New Orleans.
3. It’s touching and nostalgic, even when it’s spooky
Rice can evoke the kind of nostalgia for a past that one cannot know unless one’s life spans centuries:
“Remarkable, if for nothing else, because of this, that all of those men and women who stayed for any reason left behind them some monument, some structure of marble and brick and stone that still stands, so that even when the gas lamps went out and the planes came and the office buildings crowded the blocks of Canal Street, something irreducible of beauty and romance remained.” (Pg. 38).
4. It name drops our European past
Early on in the novel, Rice inspects the city’s European roots (not unlike one of our posts). Spanish and French influences, German and Irish… Louis concludes that the multi-cultural impact meant simply that, “There was no city like New Orleans.” (Pg. 39)
5. Because Louis loves the French Quarter
In the novel, Louis is the biggest French Quarter advocate (and Francophile) who never lived.
“I didn’t remember Europe from my childhood . . . [yet] it had a hold over me which was as powerful as the hold France can have on a colonial. I spoke French, read French, remember waiting for the reports of the Revolution and reading the Paris newspaper accounts of Napoleon’s victories. I remember the anger I felt when he sold the colony of Louisiana to the United States. How long the mortal Frenchman lived in me I don’t know.” (Pg. 149).
6. It captures intangible elements of New Orleans
The book beautifully makes the connection between the physical elements of this city and its spirit, the latter of which can’t be touched but somehow ebbs out and makes a mark on those who spend time here.
“The monument does not say that this or that man walked here. No, that what he felt in one time in one spot continues. The moon that rose over New Orleans then still rises. As long as the monument stand, it still rises. The feeling, at least here . . . and there . . . it remains the same.” (Pg. 39).
7. Because the city stays the same
Although Louis’ story is an excavation of a long, rambling past, he himself straddles the narrative’s present and the city’s future, his immortality allowing him to ride the inherent shifts in a city’s shape and fortunes:
“Of course, New Orleans was changed. But far from lamenting those changes, I was grateful for what seemed still the same. I could find in the Garden District, which had been in my time the Faubourg St. Marie, one of the stately mansions that dated back to those times, so . . . walking out in moonlight under its magnolia trees, I knew the same sweetness and peace I’d known in the old days; not only in the dark, narrow streets of the Vieux Carré but in the wilderness of Pointe du Lac… I felt an extraordinary ease walking on those warm, flat pavements, under those familiar oaks, and listening to the ceaseless vibrant living sounds of the night.” (Pg. 326).