This month, rather than recommend one book to read, I’m recommending the entire body of work of one author because Anne Rice, who passed away December 11, 2021, single-handedly revolutionized the role of vampires in literature. Yes, vampires. And the impact she’s had is more significant than you might realize.
Vampires started out as ghoulish creatures, and except for an elevation to the aristocracy in 1819 by John Polidori (fixed in the canon in 1897 by Bram Stoker), not much changed. Vampires, regardless of lineage, were firmly housed in the horror genre as two-dimensional blood-sucking monsters. Thanks to the way Anne Rice approached her craft, today vampire books are big, big business. I need only name the Charlaine Harris books, and the Twilight series to make my point.
So, what did Rice do that was so revolutionary? First, she made vampires beautiful, desirable creatures. Gone was the vile, rotting corpse imagery. Second, she made them just like us.
Interview with the Vampire, her debut novel, was published in 1976. It was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. Because it’s been written from the vampire’s point of view, the character of Louis is highly empathetic. His story is unsettling and at times, chilling, but it’s also so compelling that it’s impossible to stop reading. Of course, this is also the book where Lestat, one of the most famous vampires in all of literature, is introduced.
I’m not spoiling anything by revealing that Carmen does save the shop. It happens early in the novel. She pulls it off quickly and easily thanks to a chance encounter with a famous writer who wants to use the picturesque store for a book promotion. I think this is when the real story kicks in and the novel becomes a more traditional, Hallmark-style Christmas love story.
Anne Rice said that vampires are “an apt metaphor for the human condition”. She used supernatural creatures, who had previously only been the stuff of nightmares, to show us a little something about who we are. That juxtaposition sent literature off in a whole new direction.
There are 13 books in The Vampire Chronicles collection and I’m re-reading them now in advance of the new television series set to air sometime this year. Christopher Rice, her son and co-author, is writing the scripts so this is definitely one to watch. The Vampire Chronicles begins with Interview with the Vampire and you’ll find all the books, listed in order, at www.annerice.com.
Of course Anne Rice also wrote many other books that have nothing to do with vampires. That said, they all have a supernatural element in one form or another. If you’re looking for a novel to help you through the cold, snowy nights of winter, check out The Witching Hour (the first of The Mayfair Witches trilogy). It’s 1,000 pages long so that ought to keep you busy for a while. Violin, a stand-alone ghost story, is also brilliant.
So, why did I call this post “A Girl Named Howard”? It’s because Anne Rice was born Howard O’Brien. That’s right. Her parents named her Howard. At the age of 5 she renamed herself Anne and refused to allow anyone, even the nuns, to refer to her otherwise. It’s no surprise then, that a woman with that kind of determination and strength of Spirit penned novels that changed the trajectory of an entire genre of literature.
The audiobook is a very old recording from the days of “books on tape”. So, unfortunately, I found the recording quality to be less than I’d hoped. But to be fair, audiobooks are so well produced these days that I’m completely spoiled. Give the free sample a try and let me know what you think.