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The Tale of the Body Thief by Anne Rice
Review by Lyssa
POSSIBLE SPOILERSI found it very hard to get in to the fourth installment of the popular Vampire Chronicles, Having been a fan of the series for years, I went into The Tale of the Body Theif with certain remembered expectations that were dashed from Chapter One. The opening is charming enough. "Lestat here!" our beloved narrator chirps as he briefly lays out all that came before, then warns us not to expect the old familiar friends from previous volumes. Indeed, it is true, if only for the most part. From the opening of the following chapter, firmly setting our character down in a bland, uncharming Miami Beach, Florida circa 1991, the tale trips along at an agonizing pace, totally eschewing all the charming little side-trips into Lestat's fascinating younger life of the 18th and 19th centuries, while bouncing back and forth all over Europe, the American and South American continents until one wonders how Lestat can keep straight what city he's in, day in, day out.
We note Lestat enthralled as he watches an old Cary Grant movie over the shoulder of an elderly woman; we read over his shoulder while he treats us to his own view of Rembrandt and Goethe and their relationship to the unknown, we stand back and shake our heads with increduality when he stalks his favorite victim: The murderer, and wonder if this is it. We follow him from Miami, to New Orleans, to Paris, to Amsterdam and Rio and back again wondering what is going on in his little antiquated, Romantic, Vampire brain. We sigh with a sort of compassion at the strangely self-possessed Body Thief as he follows Lestat along as clumsily as if he were a child playing at trying to surprise his father, who has known exactly where he's been for some time. We are not at all struck by the sudden stupid grin on the man's face when he hands over a copy of a Lovecraft short story, more, curious as to what in God's Name the man can be thinking approaching our beloved Vampire.
That Lestat falls for his awkward and droll bravado is astounding, almost as if he is playing with the Body Thief, waiting for his moment to either put the man out of his misery, or make another famous dumb move and give the man the Dark Gift.
Alas no. He has a certain frustrated curiosity about the man. The same type of fascination he has in his longtime mortal friend David Talbot, Superior General of Rice's fascinating occult organization, the Talamasca, a man who, to this reader, opens the door on the whole of the most intriguing part of this tale. David Talbot is a man in his 70s, a man who has seen as much of the strange hidden side of our world as anyone can. He has come to regard Lestat with a certain awe and their conversations on such occult subjects as life, death, David's own life as a young adventurer, the story of his initiation into the priesthood of a South American voodoo sect, the tale he tells of witnessing an altogther fascinating meeting between God and Satan in a Paris café, as he tries to show Lestat the folly of entertaining the Body Thief was the most intriguing part of the novel.
Does Lestat listen? Will he heed the warnings of his noble and learned friend, those of his son-vampire-friend Louis, or those of his precious conscience, in the form of his beloved Claudia? Or will his dream of regained humanity plunge him right into mischief?
Seriously. This is Lestat, we're talking about. Those of you unfamiliar with this beloved fool, take my word for it, this is what Lestat is all about. The Vampire has a brain, but he very seldom uses it, and off he goes, trippingly believing the pathological Body Thief when he promises Lestat will enjoy the use of his body for the full 24 hours agreed upon, and when he promises he'll restore his Enlightened self to Lestat at the appointed hour. Of course, who of the Immortals wouldn't believe? Don't they all wish for one more glimpse of their lost mortality? What trouble could he get into in a little 24 hours?
The Thief is defined more by his greed than his lust for the awesome power that comes with the body of a Vampire over 200 years old, isn't he? But never mind all that. For Lestat, this is his one chance to experience, for the first time in centuries, life as a mortal man. Certain he will enjoy it, he bumbles and complains his way through every experience imaginable, and even entertains the idea of life and love with an altogether unconvinced little nun, Gretchen, with whom he shares all his story, his passion, fortune, and almost his soul, promising her his redemption, or at the very least, his fortune for her mission, and telling her a story she takes to be pure fiction, the product of his terrible flu (which he complains and whines all the way through), or fancy, at best.
It was interesting, though, to say the least, to find out what would happen, when, in the plain little body the Thief handed over, this vicious, lovely, totally self-centered Vampire goes in search of his friend David, his vampire child Louis, anyone who, he suspects, will help when the Thief betrays him. Or so he thinks. If you were a Vampire, and someone stole your body, wouldn't you believe you could turn to your kin for help? Will they assist Lestat, or will they shun him? Will he ever be able to convince David that he truly does care what's happening to his aging body, and that he only has David's best interests at heart when he continually offers him immortality? Or will our dear Vampire be lost forever to his kin, his friend, and his flip-flopping ideas of God?
This is the question. But the heart of the novel is the philosophy behind it all: what makes us believe in what we are? What binds us to this Mortal Coil, and what keeps us from simply giving it away, as Faust, to the first taker? This is what makes The Tale of the Body Thief such an interesting read. While old fans of the Vampire Chronicles may be somewhat disappointed, there are many gems here to admire, and new readers need not be intimidated at all. The Tale of the Body Thief is a good introduction to Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and a good, if not spectacular, continuation of the series. It is to be read, savored in parts, and enjoyed, and most of all is but one more glittering stepping stone to the whole of Ms. Rice's universe.
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