Friday, October 19, 2012

Review: The Tale of the Body Thief by Anne Rice

By JccKeith

Lestat de Lioncourt is the central figure of The Tale of the Body Thief by Anne Rice.  He is a 200 some year old arrogant vampire who often acts like a spoiled child.  This book follows his adventures detailed in The Vampire Chronicles.  

I have to say, I didn’t like this book more than the rest or less.  It was fairly the same in intensity and I enjoyed reading it although I wouldn’t place it among my most favorite books ever.  There is nothing really new revealed about Lestat just a continuation of his selfish endeavors and personal issues.  His relationship with David Talbot, the head of the Talamasca, is deepened and greatly elaborated.  Despite nothing really new happening in character development, other than Lestat’s late appreciation for his dark gifts, the novel is highly entertaining and keeps you turning the pages.

Lestat de Lioncourt
In the beginning of the story, we find Lestat once again unhappy with his curse of being a vampire.  He is lonely and passing his time stalking victims whom he feels deserves to die.  These victims are thieves, murderers and the like.  Removing them from society is a good thing Lestat convinces himself.  Unfortunately, Lestat cannot refrain and kills an innocent elderly woman and as bad as he feels afterwards, he finds the thirst returns.  It is during this low point he first spots the body thief staring at him and to his surprise realizes he has seen the man in two other cities.

David at the Talamasca
The strange man gives Lestat a copy of H.P. Lovecraft’s story The Thing on the Doorstep, which is  essentially a story about body swapping.   Lestat shrugs it off and goes to the Talamasca to spy on David.  He follows David for some time and even buys a copy of the book David is reading, FaustFaust is of course the legend about a man who unhappy with his life, makes a deal with the Devil, his soul in exchange for unlimited knowledge and pleasure.  In the version David is reading, everything works out for Faust in the end. 
  •   Both stories mentioned at this point foreshadow the path the main story will take with Lestat making a deal with a body thief to enjoy mortal pleasures again, body swapping, and then regretting it and spending all his time to get his body back.   In the end of course, as Faust did, Lestat realizes his appreciation for his original circumstances.

A central theme in Lestat’s life is this idea that we always want what we don’t have.  Lestat spends the majority of his time miserable for being a vampire and being immortal.  Throughout the Chronicles he consistently tries to find companions to accompany him throughout the cold loneliness of eternity.  He has created several vampires in attempts to find companions but all have left him at some point or been destroyed. Now Lestat focuses his attentions upon David and continues to offer him the ‘dark gift.’  David offers a contrast to Lestat in that he exemplifies complacency and contentment.  He is happy being mortal and old.  He refuses the gift over and over.

Once Lestat finally makes contact with David, he apologizes to David for their last encounter and their friendship continues.  Lestat, still distraught and in need of attention, tells David he intends to kill himself.  Following through on the threat despite David’s pleadings, Lestat journeys to the Gobi desert and stays out in the sun until at last he cannot stand it and protects himself by burying his body in the sand.  Awakening, he returns to David to heal.  David helps and is concerned which seems to bring a return to Lestat’s vanity.  

Eventually needing to feed he tells David of such and David asks whether he must take life to do so.  Lestat informs him, “I like to take life… I am a hunter as you were once.  I think it’s fun.”  He also has warned David, “You must remember what I am… When you help me, you help the Devil.”

Adventures with Louis, Claudia and Armand
As the story progresses there are several references to prior adventures, again foreshadowing Lestat’s tendency to become involved in debacles.  The body thief, James Raglan, reappears and convinces Lestat of his body swapping ability.  Despite David and other vampire’s reservations and warnings, Lestat switches bodies with Raglan, for one day.  Of course things go terribly awry as Raglan disappears with Lestat’s powerful body, never intending to return it.  His powerful vampire friends shun Lestat’s pleas for help and insist he has been given the gift of mortality and should be happy at last.

Coming to terms with his new mortal body, Lestat has trouble adapting.   Living as a vampire has caused him to forget how to care for a human body and do typical human functions.  Ending up very ill, Lestat is nursed back to health by Gretchen, a nun.  Lestat and Gretchen have a brief relationship.  Desiring to know the love of a man, she chooses Lestat and believes him to be sent as an angel for her.  Lestat tries to convince her he is the Devil, he is evil, but she refuses to believe and they have sex.  Gretchen describes her life in the jungle and helping others which changes Lestat’s view of things once again.  When Gretchen leaves to return to South America, Lestat goes in search of his body.

David Talbot is Lestat’s only ally in his quest.  David determines Raglan is nothing more than a glorified thief.  Easily tracking his predictable pattern of behavior, the pair locates Raglan on a cruise ship.  David teaches Lestat how to leave his own body willingly and how to attack Raglan now in Lestat’s body.  Regaining his body as the sun rises, Lestat is forced to find refuge from the light and when he returns that night both David and Raglan have disappeared.

When Lestat tracks David down he finds David now wants the dark gift.  Realizing Raglan has tricked him again and switched bodies with David; Lestat becomes angry and attacks David’s body.  In his fit of rage he smashes the skull and kills both Raglan and David’s body. We find out David has taken over the young body Raglan had formerly inhabited and is enjoying himself.  The evil side of Lestat’s nature returns and he makes David a vampire against his wishes, as we saw foretold earlier in the story. 
  • Lestat is a vampire; he is only doing what it is in his nature to do.  He is who he is and David always knew this.  Immediately afterwards, David disappears.

Claudia the child vampire
Eventually Lestat returns to Louis, as he always does, in New Orleans.  To his surprise, he finds David has contacted Louis and they plan to visit Rio together.  David reveals he secretly always wanted to regain his youth and to become a vampire.  He has forgiven Lestat despite their brief argument.  The story ends with Lestat picking up a locket of Claudia’s, the child he had made a vampire.  We see in his words that Lestat the vain and arrogant has returned and the story has come full circle:

“I wanted to say something to her as I held the locket; I wanted to say something to the being she had been, and to my own weakness, and to the greedy wicked being in me who had once again triumphed.  For I had.  I had won.
Yes, I wanted to say something so terribly much!  And would that it were full of poetry, and deep meaning, and would ransom my greed and my evil, and my lusty little heart.  For I was going to Rio, wasn’t I, and with David, and with Louis, and a new era was beginning…”

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