Book Reviews

The Tale of the Body Thief * Anne Rice

The Tale of the Body Thief * Anne Rice

Miami, 1992, a tropical garden of a city where corruption pulses beneath the lush surface – the perfect city for a vampire. Yet Lestat – hero, rock star, incorrigible seducer and the most powerful and sensual vampire of them all – prowls this savage garden in desperate misery. Restlessly pursuing the mystery of his dark existence, Lestat yearns to think, breathe and feel as a man, free of his nightmare immortality. When, stalked in his turn by the only creature able to grant his desire, Lestat rashly seizes the chance. While the Body Thief, cloaked in Lestat’s immortal powers, lays a trail of carnage across America and the Caribbean, Lestat himself is abandoned to the fragility of human life, and discovers that a mortal body is no fit receptacle for a vampire’s soul. Rejected by the other vampires, a tormented and appallingly vulnerable Lestat is forced to seek human help to recover his vampire self; help he abuses unforgivably when, in a mesmerizing climax, he succumbs to the basest urge in any nature

This novel felt a bit like a stand-alone stint in the universe of the Vampire Chronicles. Lestat, whom we already got to know and love from the previous book – finds himself being granted his biggest wish: mortality (along with a working penis).

Excerpt:

The Vampire Lestat here. I have a story to tell you, It’s about something that happened to me.
It begins in Miami, in the year 1990, and I really want to start right there. But it’s important that I tell you about the dreams I’d been having before that time, for they are very much part of the tale too. I’m talking now about dreams of a child vampire with a woman’s mind and an angel’s face, and a dream of my mortal friend David Talbot.
But there were dreams also of my mortal boyhood in France – of winter snows, my father’s bleak and ruined castle in the Auvergne, and the time I went out to hunt a pack of wolves that were preying upon our poor village.

Dreams can be as real as events. Or so it seemed to me afterwards.
And I was in a dark frame of mind when these dreams began, a vagabond vampire roaming the earth, sometimes so covered with dust that no one took the slightest notice of me. What good was it to have full and beautiful blond hair, sharp blue eyes, razzle-dazzle clothes, an irresistible smile, and a well-proportioned body six feet in height that can, in spite of its two hundred years, pass for that of a twenty-year-old mortal. I was still a man of reason however, a child of the eighteenth century, in which I’d actually lived before I was Born to Darkness.
But as the 1980s were drawing to a close I was much changed from the dashing fledgling vampire I had once been, so attached to his classic black cape and Bruxelles lace, the gentleman with walking stick and white gloves, dancing beneath the gas lamp.
I had been transformed into a dark god of sorts, thanks to suffering and triumph, and too much of the blood of our vampire elders. I had powers which left me baffled and sometimes even  frightened, I had powers which made me sorrowful though I did not always understand the reason for it.
I could, for example, move high into the air at will, traveling the night winds over great distances as easily as a spirit. I could effect or destroy matter with the power of my mind. I could kindle afire by the mere wish to do so. I could also call to other immortals over countries and continents with my preternatural voice, and I could effortlessly read the minds of vampires and humans.

Not bad, you might think. I loathed it. Without doubt, I was grieving for my old selves-the mortal boy, the newborn revenant once determined to be good at being bad
if that was his predicament.

I’m not a pragmatist, understand. I have a keen and merciless conscience. I could have been a nice guy. Maybe at times I am. But always, I’ve been a man of action. Grief is a waste, and so is fear. And action is what you will get here, as soon as I get through this introduction.

Remember, beginnings are always hard and most are artificial. It was the best of times and the worst of times-really? When! And all happy families are not alike; even Tolstoy must have realized that. I can’t get away with “In the beginning,” or “They threw me off the hay truck at noon,” or I would do it. I always get away with whatever I can, believe me. And as Nabokov said in the voice of Humbert Humbert, “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. “Can’t fancy mean experimental?
I already know of course that I am sensuous, florid, lush, humid-enough critics have told me that.
Alas, I have to do things my own way. And we will get to the beginning-if that isn’t a contradiction in terms-I promise you.
Right now I must explain that before this adventure commenced, I was also grieving for the other immortals I had known and loved, because they had long ago scattered from our last late-twentieth century gathering place. Folly to think we wanted to create a coven again. They had one by one disappeared into time and the world, which was inevitable.
Vampires don’t really like others of their kind, though their need for immortal companions is desperate.
Out of that need I’d made my fledglings-Louis de Pointe du Lac, who became my patient and often loving nineteenth-century comrade, and with his unwitting aid, the beautiful and doomed child vampire, Claudia. And during these lonely vagabond nights of the late twentieth century, Louis was the only immortal whom I saw quite often. The most human of us all, the most ungodlike.
I never stayed away too long from his shack in the wilderness of uptown New Orleans. But you’ll see. I’ll get to that. Louis is in this story.

http://magicgatebg.com/Books/INDEXII/Anne.Rice_Vampire.Chronicles.4_The.Tale.Of.The.Body.Th.pdf

The torture of immortality is always a floating theme in Rice’s books. So is the appreciation of everything thats fragile and beautiful for that, all of the vampires’ love for humans and their mortality being a clear example of this. This book, however, takes it a little bit further.

It wasn’t just Lestat looking at mortals he fell in and out of love in a time lapse of 10 minutes, it was actually him living in man’s flesh the fragility of it all. The torment of being an easy to break mortal, of having to actually do something with the short time span you get living. The anguish behind questions so fundamental like what can you do with your life to make it matter, how do you transcend, how to affect the big picture or does this big picture even matter at all.

“My conscience is killing me, isn’t it? And when you’re immortal that can be a really long and ignominious death”

This book actually feels as an outsider looking into what it means to be human, to be fragile. To have human needs and to try and not find them disgusting. To be ever so confused as to what the best approach to this transcendence would be. It continually references parts of Goethe’s Faust to keep on elaborating on to the questioning of the impossibility that there is a god and a devil that actually exist as protrayed to us by religions such as the catholic.

The “action” part (it’s a vampire book after all) did seem to take a bit of low profile role on this one, giving us entire chapters of Lestat in his human form talking to some other human, most notably Gretchen or David, trying to figure it just what it all means.

I understand some people that are going around saying it’s a slow book. It is, very much so. And a lengthy one, I think it’s as long as Queen of the Damned. I would, however, recommend not to let this move you away from this one, but to find the simple beauty of humans interacting that Rice presented us with this book.