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    Prince Lestat: A New Era for the Vampire Chronicles of Anne Rice(28 Feb 2015)
    By Ms Leigh McLennon

    Following on from last week, this week we review the new novel in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, Prince LestatPrince Lestat, published last October, comes after a 12 year hiatus in Rice’s vampire series.

    Which isn’t to say that Rice has been quiet in this period. Following her return to the Catholic Church, Rice began an ambitious fictional trilogy about the life of Jesus Christ, and published two rather unstimulating novels about angels and assassins. Around the time the second of these was published in 2010, Rice once again renounced organised religion. Professionally, she next turned her hand to werewolves. Rice’s werewolf novels, The Wolf Gift (2012) and The Wolves of Midwinter (2013), signal her return to the horror genre. They also signal broader shifts within that genre, reading much more like urban fantasy or paranormal romance than Rice’s earlier work.

    Finally, after many years of denying that she would ever return to the most beloved of her novels, Rice announced she had new a Vampire Chronicle on its way.

    Prince Lestat marks an attempt to return to Rice’s earlier Chronicles. It ignores the events of her final series-crossover novels with the Mayfair Witches trilogy. Instead, it serves more properly as a sequel to Queen of the Damned, her third vampire novel, first published in 1988. In an interview with Time, Rice suggested that with Prince Lestat, her series was being “reinvented or reincarnated or rebooted – I don’t know what the word is.”

    In fact, a more accurate word might be found from the comic book genre: Prince Lestat in many ways operates as a series ret-con, a retroactive change to the facts of continuity in Rice’s series. It’s not the first time Rice has pulled this move – in fact, many of her novels reveal “new” information about her characters’ pasts and past actions, thereby significantly altering the reader’s understanding of earlier texts. In true vampire style, in Prince Lestat many of those characters you thought were long-dead are back again and, against all expectations, ready for fresh blood.

    The novel is perhaps most interesting in the way that it addresses shifts of time and context for Rice’s vampires. Prince Lestat does not just fill in for the reader how Rice’s vampires have got on during the ten years of her hiatus. In many ways, it addresses how her vampires have lived and changed during the forty years her series has spanned.

    Above all, the novel attempts to account for how Rice’s characters have survived into the twenty-first century, and what changes they have had to make to thrive in the new millennium. These vampires, time-travellers all, have been delighted by technological marvels from wristwatches to the moving cinema to the fax machine. How do they cope with wireless internet, podcasts, smart phones and omnipresent CCTV? What can new biotechnologies do for their immortal bodies? And how can the vampire remain an outsider, separate from the human world, in the face of these new technological advances?

    Like Queen of the Damned, and unlike the rest of the Chronicles, Prince Lestat is written from multiple perspectives. Like Queen of the Damned again, the novel follows various vampires of the world as they face an imminent threat. This threat is “The Voice,” a mysterious, disembodied presence that has been hypnotically compelling powerful vampires to murder the weaker, younger vampires around them.

    For the familiar reader, it is not difficult to guess the source of the “Voice,” and the narrative’s delay in confirming its identity is curiously long, slowing the progression of the actual plot. In fact, much of Prince Lestat sees old vampires rehashing old problems in a new time and place.

    This is not necessarily a bad thing. In Our Vampires, Ourselves, Nina Auerbach delivered a maxim now oft-quoted in studies of the vampire: “every age embraces the vampire it needs.” Vampires must change to suit the times in which they live. As Jack Halberstam writes in Skin Shows, vampires are “meaning machines,” tools able to stand in for and signify a multiplicitous array of very human anxieties, fears and desires. Academic analysis of Rice’s works is dominated by the analysis of how her fictional vampires engage with and refract the contemporary social anxieties of our own, very real, world.

    For example, the homoeroticism prevalent in the Chronicles has sparked numerous queer readings of its texts. In New Vampire Cinema (2012), Ken Gelder calls the 1992 film adaptation of Interview with the Vampire “a thinly disguised ‘coming out’ movie.” In his earlier Reading the Vampire (1994), Gelder wrote that Rice’s male “vampire protagonists – Louis, Lestat and Armand – are decidedly ‘queer.’ Rice flaunts the gayness of her male vampires; they cohabit together as ‘queer’ parents, with vampire children; at other times, they may be bisexual or sexually ‘polymorphous.’” Moreover, he added, “We would need to think about what it means for Rice, a reputedly heterosexual wife and mother, to write ‘as’ a queer male vampire.”

    George Haggerty similarly argues in his article “Anne Rice and the Queering of Culture” (1998), that “to understand the Chronicles, in fact, [its vampires] must be read as gay, and their relations can only be understood in terms of male-male desire.” Like Gelder, Haggerty questions what it means for a female author to write popular, homoerotic horror novels. He goes on to give a compelling argument that the popularity of Rice’s series in the 1990s is related to the way that her vampires speak to contemporary social “anxieties” about “the AIDS crisis, the crisis over ‘family values’ and the collapse of the war on drugs with its attendant . . . war on male potency.”

    Rice’s vampires arguably engage with the shifting socio-historical anxieties prevalent in every decade they have been written. Moreover, they have been read more broadly as emblems for the state of modernity itself. Of Interview with the Vampire, Fred Botting writes in his article “Hypocrite Vampire”:

    The novel not only looks back at modernity to chart the manner in which the aesthetic and spiritual subject of Romanticism becomes the decadent asocial aesthete of the fin-de-siècle: it looks forward – within its own timescale at least – to incorporate an anxiety more apparent in the twentieth century. A discussion between Armand, the 400-year-old vampire, and Louis rather clumsily tries to mark out the latter’s significance as a new everyperson and establish the novel with some vague credentials as social commentary: ‘I’m not the spirit of any age. I’m at odds with everything and always have been! I have never belonged anywhere with anyone at any time!’ Armand contradicts him: ‘This is the very spirit of your age. Don’t you see that? Everyone feels as you feel.’

    As a “spirit” of modernity, David Punter, Gelder and Botting all read in Rice’s vampires the figure of the flâneur. The term, first coined in the early modern period, refers to a wandering spectator who delights in watching (and thereby consuming) the people and the world around him. In the twentieth century, Walter Benjamin has argued that the flâneur is a symbol of modern capitalism and the alienation of the urban consumer. In many ways, this seems an apt description of Rice’s vampires.

    Moreover, Gelder and Botting argue, Rice’s vampires are not just figures for modernity, but for postmodernity. The conceit that guides her novels, that they are written and published by vampires, perhaps suggests a postmodern metafictionality. Gelder and Botting argue, however, that these vampires are more truly postmodern as simulations. Gelder writes that Rice turns “vampirism into something akin to a posture or style, a simulation of the real.” Botting further suggests that Rice’s historical fiction and her flâneur-vampires offer a “simulated nostalgia” for the past, and that “the superficial density of self-reference” in Rice’s novels “does not function in the manner of postmodern forms of literary reflexivity,” i.e. in the manner of literary metafiction – instead, this self-reference “situates itself within a hall of simulations absorbing all productions.”

    But by now we are growing rather dense for a blog post, and we ourselves have wandered some way from our focus on Prince Lestat. The foregoing is intended merely to gesture toward some of the key critical analyses of how Rice’s vampires relate to and refract the very human anxieties of their time.

    So. If Prince Lestat in many ways returns old vampires to us in order to revisit old problems in a new era, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Rice’s vampires, as always, adapt to the world around them. They must solve old problems in new ways. For Lestat himself, the so-called “James Bond of the vampires” and the “Brat-Prince,” this means a new attempt to grow up – to graduate from spoiled prince to a leader of the vampire “tribe.”

    And if the Voice represents a dire threat to vampires in this novel, its role is mirrored by that of Benji Mahmoud, a fledgling companion to the vampire Armand. In Prince Lestat, Benji has “invented the radio station” for vampires, operating “an internet radio stream . . . often speaking to the Children of Darkness nightly and inviting their phone calls from all over the world.” Benji's own disembodied, compelling voice also reaches out to connect with the vampires of the world. The gist of Benji’s programme, as the Voice strikes against those weaker vampires worldwide, is that “We are a tribe; we want to survive; and the elders aren’t helping us.”

    Benji casts Lestat, made famous by his “autobiographies” and his former rock music career, as one of these elders. “They don’t help us,” Benji complains. “Why did Lestat write his books! .... Lestat, where are you?” At first, Lestat’s response is merely an unimpressed, “Like I’m one of the elders? Come on, now, seriously!”

    Benji’s perception of Rice’s vampires as a global “tribe” suggests a key shift in new vampire literature. While Rice continues to maintain that her vampires are outsiders, ostracised from human fellowship, Benji suggests that Rice’s vampires have become a community of their own. In this respect, they are not unlike the new vampires of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, vampires who often live as a minority community in the human world (for example, in television series True Blood).

    In their attempts to destroy or unite the global vampire community, both the Voice and Benji suggest the ongoing significance of interconnection for Rice’s vampires. In an era of new global, technological and posthuman interconnection for us regular humans, an exploration of the psychic and physical ties among these vampires has never been more relevant.

    For many fans, Prince Lestat was eagerly awaited and joyously received. The novel has sold well, and was voted by readers as Best Horror of 2014 in the Good Reads 2014 Best Books Awards.

    However, the overall response from critics has been less effusive. For example, Terrence Rafferty of the New York Times called Prince Lestat “a dreadful novel,” declaring “Rice’s queenly prose is unaltered. Time cannot wither nor custom stale its infinite monotony.” Louise Welsh of The Guardian deemed it “a sprawling, meandering disappointment.” Elizabeth Hand of the Washington Post called the plot “contortuplicated,” consisting too much of “descriptive filler.”

    I include these criticisms here because, as an academic fan who grew up on Rice’s novels, my own much more positive response to the text is surely a little biased. As a return to the series, Prince Lestat is certainly not a text for anyone but Rice’s fans. Despite the author’s own claims to the contrary, the novel must be close to undecipherable for a reader new to her work. Though I am a long-time fan, if I had not re-read again the earliest of her novels immediately before the release of Prince Lestat, even I would have been baffled as to the identity of some of the minor characters who return here. Multiple preambles and appendices have been included in the novel, in an attempt to account for the epic backstory necessary to understand this new entry into Rice’s vampire canon.

    However, for all the novel’s possible flaws, nonetheless there is something charming about Rice’s commitment to (and at times, blatant adoration of) her vampire hero. For the long-time reader, Prince Lestat will remind you of the things you have always loved best about Rice’s works.

    Prince Lestat ends with Benji declaring, “It is a new era. It is a new time.” Whether or not Lestat truly does graduate from Brat Prince to King Vampire in this new era remains to be seen. After all, it’s not the first time that this protagonist has attempted to grow up, to become nobler in his intentions and actions. As Rice has at least one more new adventure planned for Lestat in a future novel, we can only wait and see if this time, his good intentions carry through. What Prince Lestat does confirm, however, is that Rice’s vampires will continue to attempt to engage with each new era in new ways, for as long as her series continues.

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