Monday, December 26, 2011

The Tale of the Body Thief: The Vampire Chronicles


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It's been said that Vladimir Nabokov's best novels are the ones he wrote after starting a failed novel. Anne Rice wrote The Body Thief, the fourth thrilling episode of her Vampire Chronicles, right after she spent a long time poring over that most romantic of horror novels, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, to research a novel Rice abandoned about an artificial man. Perhaps as a result of Shelley's influence, The Body Thief is far more psychologically penetrating than its predecessors, with a laser-like focus on a single tormented soul. Oh, we meet some wild new characters, and Rice's toothsome vampire-hero Lestat zooms around the globe--as is his magical habit--from Miami to the Gobi desert, but he's in such despair that he trades his immortal body to a con man named Raglan James, who offers him in return two days of strictly mortal bliss.

Lestat has always had a faulty impulse-control valve, and it gets him in truly intriguing trouble this time. On the plus side, he gets to experience romance with a nun and orange juice--"thick like blood, but full of sweetness." But Lestat is horrified by an uncommon cold, and his toilet training proves traumatic. He's also got to catch Raglan James, who has no intention of giving up his dishonestly acquired new superpowered body. Lestat enlists the help of David Talbot, a mortal in the Talamasca, a secret society of immortal watchers described in Queen of the Damned.

The swapping of bodies and supernatural stories is choice, and there's even a moral: never give a bloodsucker an even break.

The fourth book of the Vampire Chronicles series, launched in 1976 with Interview with the Vampire (which Knopf is simultaneously reissuing in cloth), reconfirms Rice's power as a mesmerizing raconteur. In sensuous, fluid prose, she follows the tormented vampire Lestat as he struggles to integrate his bloodthirsty nature with his aspirations to achieve humanity. Desiring to see the sun, to love without taking blood, to seek God as mortals do, Lestat enters blindly into an unholy bargain. In order to experience mortality for one day and two nights, he agrees to switch bodies with the scoundrel Raglan James, a former member of the secret order of scholarly occultists called the Talamasca, and a "sinister being," according to David Talbot, the order's superior general and Lestat's longtime friend and advisor. But Lestat has given little thought to how James intends to use his body and its vampiric powers. Trapped in the mortal state, Lestat must overcome the human frailties of despair and physical pain to thwart James's evil intentions and, with Talbot's help, regain his immortal self. Drawing on characters met in earlier novels as well as the lushly evoked settings of New Orleans, Miami and Paris, Rice once again deftly lures readers into the enchanting world of her anguished and deeply sympathetic hero.

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