Well, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d read an Anne Rice novel.
Although I once tried to read Rice’s “Interview With The Vampire” during my early twenties (after seeing the film), I just couldn’t get into it and ended up abandoning it after about a hundred pages. But, about a week before writing this review, I happened to find a copy of Rice’s 1998 novel “The Vampire Armand” in a second-hand bookshop in Emsworth and decided to take a look at it. I’m so glad that I did 🙂
However, I should probably point out that this novel is apparently the sixth novel in a series. Although most of the novel works fairly well as a stand-alone book, the beginning and one recap-heavy segment later in the book can be a little confusing if, like me, you haven’t read the previous five books in the series. But, don’t let this put you off.
Anyway, let’s take a look at “The Vampire Armand”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins in an abandoned church in New Orleans during the late 1990s. A powerful vampire called Lestat lies in some kind of coma and is visited by other vampires. One of those vampires is Armand, a centuries-old vampire who can see ghosts and who still looks like the seventeen year old boy he was when he became a vampire.
After meeting another vampire called Marius and discussing two humans that Armand has taken under his wing, Armand is accosted by a body-swapping man called David Talbot who wants to write a book about Armand’s life story.
After some discussion and a spot of blood-drinking, Armand reluctantly agrees to dictate his life story – an epic tale of cruelty, poverty, opulence, tragedy, delight, despair and spiritual visions.
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is WOW 🙂 This novel is magnificent 🙂 Whether it is the atmosphere, the characters or the exquisite writing, this novel is almost transcendent at times 🙂 Yes, there are some pacing problems later in the book, but these flaws are overshadowed by the sheer quality of this novel.
In terms of the novel’s horror elements, there aren’t really as many as I’d expected. Yes, there are scenes of gory horror, gothic horror, paranormal horror, character-based horror, cruel horror and tragic horror but this is more of an atmospheric, gothic and sometimes bleak novel about the bittersweet life of a vampire than anything actually frightening.
Even so, this novel can certainly be disturbing sometimes! For example, it is implied that Armand is only in his early-mid teens during certain story events set in Venice. But, because Armand is narrating and has very rose-tinted memories of this part of his life, these events aren’t always described in the “disturbing” way you would expect them to be. This contrast between narration and story is incredibly unsettling – and I was actually going to criticise the novel for it before I suddenly realised that it was very much an intentional horror effect.
This is a novel that is about as different from a traditional horror novel as you can get, yet it is a horror novel nonetheless.
There are so many fascinating themes in this novel. Whether it is loneliness, religion, memory, identity, the nature of stories, history etc… this is a novel that certainly doesn’t shy away from intellectual and emotional depth.
It is a powerful, resplendent tale that runs the gamut from delight to despair. It is the kind of book which, when it is at it’s best, will seem like more than just a book. It is a complex novel that will require effort to read, but will reward you for putting in this effort.
In terms of the characters, they are really well-written. Although the novel mostly focuses on Armand’s long and complicated life, many of the other characters also get a fairly decent amount of characterisation too. Still, Armand is very much the centre of this novel and he’s such a fascinating guy. He is, at the same time, someone who wants to enjoy life, a monk-like scholar, a pompous aristocrat, a lonely man, a bitter cynic and a petulant questioner. Seriously, as vampire characters go, he’s one of the best that I’ve ever seen 🙂
The writing in this novel is absolutely excellent too. The novel’s first-person narration (from Armand’s perspective) is written in the kind of opulent, complex, beautiful and formal style that you would expect from a centuries-old vampire. Yes, this ultra-formal 19th century-like writing style takes a little while to get used to and it slows the story down a bit, but it adds so much depth and atmosphere to the novel 🙂 Plus, the novel also includes a few fourth wall breaking moments and even a couple of 1990s pop culture references (eg: the “Romeo and Juliet” film, the X-Files etc..) too.
Seriously, I cannot praise the atmosphere of this novel enough. Whether it is the gloomy, snowy scenes set in 1990s America or the opulent splendour of Renaissance Venice, this novel is one of the most atmospheric books that I’ve read in a while 🙂
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At 520 pages in length, it is a fairly long novel and yet it pretty much justifies it’s length. Likewise, although the story is fairly slow-paced, a lot of it is so atmospheric and compelling that you probably won’t mind.
The only real criticism I have of the pacing is how the book will sometimes gloss over whole centuries and/or recap previous books in the space of a few pages, which can feel a bit abrupt, glib, dull or confusing. Still, these parts only make up a relatively small portion of the book (eg: the segment between half and three-quarters of the way through the book).
In terms of how this twenty-one year old book has aged, it has aged really well. In a lot of ways, this is due to the historical setting of most of the story and the fact that the 19th century style narration is a really good fit with the narrator. Yes, the writing style is probably more formal and “slow-paced” than you’d expect in a modern novel, but it is still pretty much timeless.
All in all, this novel is amazing 🙂 Yes, the pacing isn’t always perfect, but there are so many amazing moments, beautiful descriptions, atmospheric locations, fascinating characters, intellectual moments, gothic moments etc.. here that this novel is still worth reading. If you enjoy atmospheric vampire fiction or just want an epic, sumptuous gothic tale, then I can’t recommend this book highly enough 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.