Sci-fi / Late to the party: Interview with the Vampire

2013-11-05

So, I finally got around to reading Interview with the Vampire, on a friend's recommendation, and it left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand it's a classic, and if you haven't read it yet you should. On the other hand, the book has annoying flaws which kept detracting from the experience, and I'd rather not bother with the rest of the series. YMMV.

The first thing that jumps out is the structure. The book isn't divided into chapters, instead flowing almost continuously, with the occasional scene break every 50 pages or so if I counted correctly. That makes it very tiresome to read, but also nearly impossible to set down, rich descriptions flowing like turbulence in a mountain stream from the smallest event. It really makes you see the world as a vampire might with their enhanced senses. To the author's credit, that doesn't take away from the action, either; the book is plenty eventful. But reading it was extremely tiresome, and I would have appreciated a slackening of the pace now and then.

There are other flaws, such as various details that remain unexplained. For example, why do vampires need to sleep in coffins? It's not just to shut out daylight, as it's made obvious at one point, and any random coffin will do, new or used. Then why does it have to be a coffin at all? Equally baffling is how the protagonists can live like kings during their trip across Europe, or how a killer taking at least one life every night for decades on end can remain unnoticed, let alone uncaught. Consider the furor caused by Jack the Ripper, who only killed a handful to a dozen people over several years, and that was in London, a frighteningly large metropolis for the time at five million residents. Last but not least, at one point I became very annoyed at Louis being perpetually confused and unreasoning. Sure, he had a good excuse, but seriously, get a grip, man!

But overall the book blew my mind away. The idea of a Catholic vampire is jaw-dropping, as is the parallel between vampires and Grim Reapers, and the repeated twists that take place once Louis and Claudia start meeting other vampires never ceased to delight me. And that's nothing compared to the fact that Interview with a Vampire featured a bisexual protagonist and what we would nowadays term a same-sex marriage... in 1976, when it was first published.

Indeed, family is the central theme of the book, along with personal roots and the need to belong somewhere. Adapting to a changing world, an acutely current issue, is also a prominent theme throughout.

Ultimately, Interview with a Vampire is a book about people, and as such it doesn't belong in the genre ghetto at all. It's literary, action-packed, psychological and fantastic, all at the same time, and that's damn hard to pull off.

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