This September I’ve read four books for the R.I.P challenge, one of my favorite events of the year hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings. I’m still working on the reviews for the other two – This House is Haunted, by John Boyne and Sepulchre by James Herbert, hopefully to be ready sometime next week. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on two famous classics.
Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice
This has been on my TBR list for a really long time. I was saving it for this challenge, but was a little afraid that it might not be as good as I hoped it would. Having watched the movie years ago (it was probably the first time I noticed Brad Pitt), I felt the book didn’t have a lot of new things to offer. I’m so glad to have been proven wrong.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for is how rich the language is, how with only a few words the author can convey a feeling, and how that translates so much better in writing than on screen.
The story begins with Louis, a vampire, being interviewed by “a boy”. In the space of one night, Louis recounts his life, how he was made a vampire, and what followed after that.
Louis was twenty-five and living in Louisiana at the end of the eighteen century. His life as a human ended when Lestat, an old (in age only, not in appearance) and experienced vampire decided to make him immortal. Through constant manipulation, he was able to keep Louis with him and by giving him a vampire child, Lavinia, he created the illusion of a family. But Lavinia, trapped in a child’s body for years on end did something that upset the precarious balance of their life together.
Lestat and Louis are two very different types of vampire – while the older one is selfish, ruthless and given to sudden moods, the younger has an analytical mind and is constantly tormented by his conscience. His need to understand what he is, his disdain for his own immortality, his newfound appreciation for the briefness of human life set him apart from Lestat. When he meets other vampires, after years of searching, he discovers they are not actually what he hoped they would be, with the exception of Armand, who seemed to be the kind of companion Louis was looking for.
What makes the story unique is the introspection of its characters. Both Louis and Lavinia are capable of analyzing their existence, of trying to see past the terrifying idea of being a vampire, of wanting more out of their life. They want answers, they want to understand their nature and its mysterious powers. It is what sets them apart from Lestat who only seems concerned with manipulating them for his own interest.
This book was a great surprise. Not only did it show an unexpected facet of the complex life of a vampire, but its array of powerful emotions made it so much more than just a vampire story. It questions immortality, love, sexuality, the meaning of life and what makes one human. I have read other books from the Vampire Chronicles but I don’t remember being as moved by them as I was by this. It makes me want to read the whole series (of which this is the first book) in order. I want to find out what happened to Louis and what made Lestat such a detestable character. And to make things even more exciting, there’s a new book coming out next month – Prince Lestat. A perfect little gem to add to my TBR list.
My rating: 5/5 stars
Frankenstein – Mary W. Shelley
Frankenstein, like Interview with the Vampire, was one of those books that I told myself I would read “one day”. That day came when I downloaded a copy from projectguttenberg and started reading it on my tablet. I do not know if it was the fact that I was reading from a screen – although I find my experience is greatly influenced as much by the book itself as by the writing within its pages – but I managed to read most of it in a day when power was out for a few hours and I could spend time reading without the constant temptation of social media.
When I read from a screen, the words fly. Somehow my brain focuses less on the words and more on getting to the next page. I don’t know why, but with a physical book I can concentrate on the words more closely, I feel the object in itself is a tangible thing, whereas the electronic format is stripped of that emotional charge and therefore more difficult to absorb.
In spite of this disadvantage, there were a few pleasant surprises – the beginning of the story, for instance. I knew the general idea behind the story of Frankenstein – a human given life by scientist Victor Frankenstein, an experiment which went terribly wrong, not necessarily because of its completion but because neither the creator nor the created were prepared for the consequences of that act. I was not familiar with how Frankenstein came to tell his story and I’m glad that was a surprise; I will not reveal it, because if any of the readers of this blog plan to read the book, it’s better left unspoiled.
I found myself intrigued by the dilemma behind this extraordinary experiment – is the creator responsible for his creation, especially when that creation is a living, breathing creature? Or is he (or she) exempt from responsibility once the act of creation is completed? To make a parallel with Interview with the Vampire, wasn’t Lestat also responsible for Louis and Lavinia? Was it not his duty to educate them about the kind of beings they were turned into? But Victor Frankenstein, like Lestat, chose to ignore that responsibility and tragedy soon followed.
Even though his creation is called “monster”, it was difficult to condemn a man whose only wish was to live among people and experience compassion, friendship, love. His efforts to adapt to such a world were catastrophic – without guidance and no friend to lean on, he was constantly judged by his terrible looks and impressive stature, and wherever he went he inspired either fear or extreme anger. I pitied him and thought his maker could and should have guided him in the strange new world he suddenly found himself living in.
With no memory of life before the moment he woke up in the scientist’s lab, the “monster” was exposed to an environment he knew nothing about. Through observation and self-education he managed to understand the harsh reality, even teaching himself to speak and read, and could also present a compelling argument in a conversation, but his sheer size and general appearance rendered his efforts useless. Would he have been able to live a better life had Victor Frankenstein listened to his plea and made him a female companion? Would he have kept his promise of living in seclusion, far from the world of men, not harming anyone ever again? Or would the scientist’s fear of giving life to two such extraordinary creatures have been proven true?
Frankenstein’s creation brings up another question – can a man capable of showing emotions and intelligence but having a disturbing appearance live a semblance of a normal life among other people? Or is he forever condemned to be judged by his looks alone before he can even open his mouth? In a world obsessed with beauty I find this question more poignant than ever.
I felt empathy towards Frankenstein’s “monster”. Even this label – monster – makes me cringe, as I do not see him as such, but as a human brought back to life and thrown out into the world to survive on his own. His actions were terrible and tragic, and yet I couldn’t but blame Frankenstein for his blindness, for even if he was a learned man and a scientist, he lacked one of humanity’s most basic emotions – compassion.
My rating: 4/5 stars