We left off at a dire moment for Our Hero: the inevitable had at last come to pass, and Lestat’s first love Nicolas had immolated himself (with more than a touch of help from Armand). We return you now to that moment as things continue to get worse. Way worse, because we have to finally contend with The Worst Character in the flesh.
Gabrielle’s attempts to comfort Lestat are mostly by taking him around to things that she enjoys and attempting to share them with him. Like parent, like child—you may recall this being exactly how Lestat tried to help Louis through his depression. It goes about as well here as it did there (which is to say, it makes things worse).
There’s also more than a hint of gross exoticizing in this entire Egypt section, as the two blonde European tourists watch boys dance in brothels and listen to the “exotic sounds” and “heated erotic music” of this entire culture that’s just an Epcot Center for their relationship angst to move against. Which is interesting, on the one hand, and could’ve potentially highlighted the character struggle between Gabrielle’s love of history sans humanity and Lestat’s determination to engage with the messiness of the present.
But the book doesn’t make that connection; it really is just an Exotic Foreign Land whose populace is a neato curiosity rather than truly human. Which is a staple of the romance novels Rice draws from and writes in, but it was some bullshit in that genre, too (I mean, we should probably all square with the fact that every one of the protagonists in this series is white and benefiting from/perpetuating racist institutions, even if that rarely comes up in text. Given how much these books are about other systems of oppression, it feels like a glaring omission worth being honest about).
Lestat, king of self-absorption, is at least able to acknowledge that Gabrielle is “caring for [him] in her own way.” But Lestat confides that he’s “sinking,” clearly feeling the grip of anxiety and depression. They visit the Colossi of Memnon, and all it does is make Lestat more afraid of eternity.
Faces blasted away, they seemed nevertheless to stare forward, mute witnesses to the passage of time, whose stillness made me sad and afraid.
The other effect of this is that he starts clinging harder and harder to the myth of Marius that he’s built up in his mind. At every ancient structure he asks “has Marius seen this, does Marius know about this.” Marius is less a person than a way for Lestat to cope with his fears about living forever and maintaining his personhood.
And as he reaches for more and more to try and maintain emotional stability (and fails), so Marius becomes an impossibly grand figure in his mind. Marius knows all about ancient history. Marius has seen things and understands them but also maintains a compassion for humanity in a way that Gabrielle doesn’t because he PAINTS. Marius is tortured and sensitive and would just be able to explain EVERYTHING, if only Lestat could find him.
Lestat’s impressions of Marius become, essentially, too big to fail. He’s invested so much of himself and his ability to go on in this image that if some part of it isn’t true, then Lestat’s entire world crumbles. He can’t afford to question Marius or find him anything less than wonderful. Which is fascinating…if the books actually did anything with it. Sadly, Lestat finding Marius to be nigh-infallible also means that the overall narrative finds him nigh-infallible, which is…a problem. Like, it’s a big fucking problem.
One more thing before we move on—Lestat, your misogyny is showing again. Gabrielle is the most learned person you know, but there’s no mystique to her, so talking to her about these ancient relics is apparently a useless exercise. No, no, it must be a Master Scholar who can coincidentally be an outlet for your daddy issues.
As it turns out, the reason Gabrielle’s been trying so hard to include Lestat in her adventures is because she’s trying to find a way for them to stay together despite their ever-clearer divergent interests. She begs him to leave his possessions behind and come with her, exploring the world far away from the influence of humans. Lestat takes it well.
And this was why she had stayed close to me, this was why she had done so many little things to please, this was why we were together now. It had nothing to do with Nicki gone into eternity. It was another parting that concerned her now.
No, you idiot. She’s not doing this to make herself feel better. She’s doing it because she loves you and can tell you’re desperate to cling to something, so she’s trying her hardest to make room for you in her new life. Her new life that she has a right to because you are an adult now, and so is she; and while she’ll always be your parent she isn’t required to be your caretaker for eternity.
WANTING TO BE HER OWN PERSON DOESN’T MEAN SHE DOESN’T LOVE—arghhhhhhhh.
File this under yet another thing that is perfectly reasonable for the character to believe in this moment, but is a really annoying thing for the author to believe.
Oh, but this is the section of Really Overt Racism, so let me throw this doozy at you.
“Come with me, Lestat,” she said. “By day I sleep in the sand. By night I am on the wing as if I could truly fly. I need no name. I leave no footprints. I want to go down to the very tip of Africa. I will be a goddess to those I slay.”
Wow, that all sounded great until you played it into the “white person that them Primitive Brown People mistake for a god” thing. Spoiler alert: that’s not the last time that thread appears in these books. But I don’t have to think about that for a while, and I intend to enjoy that blissful reprieve.
They go back to Cairo, both of them knowing this is the end between them, and there’s a really effective scene where Lestat is fretting about trying to figure out what’s going on with the French Revolution and Gabrielle is trying to entice him with the wonders of the natural world. It shows the different emotional states and priorities of their characters in an understated way. Lestat’s working himself up, wanting to hide from his fears with hedonism (“I told myself that I wanted to dance”) but without any humans around to help him avoid himself.
And then Gabrielle unveils “like parent, like child” mach two, and unburies a packet of letters she’d been hiding. Lestat is angry at her for this, rightfully so…and it doesn’t stop him from doing the exact same thing to Louis and Claudia. She claims that she hid them because she wanted to take the chance that she could convince him (one more point for “she does love him and wants to support him” and against “she just wants to assuage her guilt before she leaves”). And ultimately, she hands them over.
It’s bad news. Like, bloodbath bad news. Bastille Day has come and gone. The members of the theatre have either fled the country or are nowhere to be found. Lestat’s family is very findable, mostly because they’re all dead—except for his father, who made it to New Orleans because he was in IWTV so we can’t just dispose of him. Even if it would be the most satisfying thing to do.
The letters close saying that Lestat’s father has been asking for him.
“Don’t go to him,” she said.
Her voice was small and insignificant in the silence. But the silence was an immense scream.
“Don’t go to him,” she said again. The tears streaked her face like clown paint, two long streams of red coming from her eyes.
I’ll be honest, at this point I find myself forgiving her wholeheartedly. She absolutely shouldn’t have lied, especially not since a lot of her vampirehood is her feeling out ways to treat her son like an adult (including briefly tolerating his weird, gross desire to make out with her). To her pragmatic mind, there’s nothing he could’ve done to stop the situation. It would make him miserable, and if he goes back to his father he’ll potentially fall back into old patterns of the man’s abusive orbit. None of this information would help Lestat move forward.
Except that she discounts his need for closure, and the fact that he wasn’t able to sever his complicated feelings for his family as neatly as she did, after years and years of numbing abuse. Lestat’s an adult, but he’s not so far from being a child that he’s able to rationalize the abuse he suffered from his father and brothers as a separate thing from the love he still felt for them. That’s a hard thing even for people with far more stable mental states and better support than Lestat has. He’s got no chance at all.
Lestat has a dream that night. It’s half a page long, and it is a kick directly in the teeth. All of his family are there, all of them vampires—including the small children (hello, foreshadowing). But not only are they alive, they’re all kind and loving and appreciative of him in a way they never were in life. Vampirism even cures his father’s blindness, which is decidedly not how anything works.
My oldest brother put his arm around me. He looked marvelous in decent clothes. I’d never seen him look so good, and the vampiric blood had made him so spare and so spiritual in expression.
“You know it’s a damn good thing you came when you did with all the Dark Gifts.” He laughed cheerfully.
“The Dark Tricks, dear, the Dark Tricks,” said his wife.
“Because if you hadn’t,” he continued, “why, we’d all be dead!”
Sometimes these books are so good it makes me angry. That’s an amazing image, the perversion of the almost sitcom-warm scenario that was never true for even one second in life. It’s haunting and ghastly and perfectly revealing of Lestat’s mental state as his survivor’s guilt begins to mix with his savior complex and desperate need to create meaning out of his rape and murder.
The conclusion he comes to—that life is better than death, no matter the circumstances—makes perfect sense. And it is horribly damaging when he attempts to inflict it on others without considering their wants and needs; his strong sympathy but difficulty empathizing is a legitimate threat to others’ wellbeing, because his mentality was shaped by being beaten down.
Once nobody’s strong enough to beat him, it functionally means nobody is strong enough to tell him “no.” Theoretically this is offset in the present by the release of his autobiography, a sign that he at last realized that he needs to respect and adhere to Louis’ independent personhood if that relationship is going to have any chance of starting over. And as long as I pretend there are only three books, I can go on believing he acted on that realization.
Lestat starts mechanically making plans to go to America, not out of real connection but because it’s what he thinks he must do.
“But you can’t be going to him!” she whispered.
Him? Oh. My father.
“What does it matter? I am going!” I said.
Because he doesn’t know what to do, but this seems like a sufficiently grand gesture. This will result in a dramatic change that doesn’t require a significant amount of introspection, and I think we all know by now that that’s Lestat’s go-to. Also, Lestat mentions that they crossed the ocean in cork-lined coffins, and I think all of you needed to know this stupid(ly excellent) detail.
Before they part, Gabrielle makes Lestat promise that he’ll never kill himself without first seeking her out, which is the saddest last-ditch attempt to keep him alive I’ve ever heard and breaks my heart. He scoffs at it, and she asks why she’s worried if he’s going to be just fine, and then the book does one of those annoying things where the characters pontificate about their emotions in a totally unnecessarily on the nose way.
“You sense my loneliness,” I answered, “my bitterness at being shut out of life. My bitterness that I’m evil, that I don’t deserve to be loved and yet I need love hungrily. My horror that I can never reveal myself to mortals. But these things don’t stop me, Mother. I’m too strong for them to stop me. as you said yourself once, I’m very good at being what I am. These things merely now and then make me suffer, that’s all.”
Yes, thank you, Lestat. Bits of monologuing like this reveal a sort of authorial insecurity; we picked up all of this by watching Lestat’s actions up to now, but Anne wanted to make really, really sure we got exactly how she wants us to read the character. So why not have him lay it out in convenient paragraph form? Can’t have those readers drawing out unintended interpretations from Lestat “read between the lines” de Lioncourt.
But clearly Gabrielle once again knew her son better than he knew himself, because as soon as she leaves all he can think to do is lie down and try to die. And while Lestat is undeniably a drama queen, that’s not how I mean it here. His family is dead, his mother is gone; his first love is dead, seemingly because of Lestat’s actions, he hasn’t processed the trauma of his death; and he’s having an anxious, existential meltdown all by himself. Of course he is trying to lay down and die.
He very nearly makes it, too, but has one of those chance meetings similar to Louis running across the painter or the priest in IWTV. In this case a strange young man wanders into the garden where Lestat’s about to cook, looking concerned for his fellow man.
“A young fair-haired European in Arab robes, he was.”
Of fucking course he was. I get what the scene is going for here—it’s yet another case of Lestat seeing doubles of what he could’ve been, like the corpses of blonde boys in Magnus’ tower. He’s haunted by visions of the life that was stolen from him, I get it. I even think it’s an effective motif and a way to thematically tie Louis and Lestat together (because fuck knows we need reasons as to why they should give it another go after their disastrous first marriage).
You’re in Egypt. What are the FUCKING ODDS you’d run into another blonde guy, or that he’d be the first who’d be moved to help you above, like, an Egyptian person? The point of this scene is for Lestat to be jolted by this connection of human sympathy into saving himself, despite wanting to die. You could do that without needing to miraculously conjure another white guy. Instead, it feeds into this section’s really troubling trend of taking place around SO MANY NON-WHITE PEOPLE and choosing repeatedly to dehumanize and ignore them.
But whatever, Lestat has massive self-loathing etc.
“Did you think I was human?” I cried. And then I picked him up, holding him off his feet before me as he kicked and struggled uselessly. “Did you think I was your brother?” I shouted. And his mouth opened with a dry rasping noise, and then he screamed.
Something something, throws him over the garden wall and runs away. There’s conveniently a burned-out house somewhere in town, and Lestat buries himself in the ground there for the day. And the night. And the next night. He’s determined that he won’t give in to his desire to kill humans, and determines to stay in the earth until eventually he’s too weak to leave it.
The prose gets disjointed here to convey Lestat’s increasingly detached and erratic mental state. He has conversations with Nicki’s ghost, thinks about Gabrielle, relives his conversations about good and evil and the Witch’s Place from back home. In other words, he was already in a bad way vis a vis his anxiety and depression, and then he isolates himself so long that he starts hallucinating and loses touch with any kind of context, grounding, or emotional self-sufficiency.
Which means it’s a perfect time for The Worst Character to show up. I hope you’ll indulge me, because we’re going to take the magnifying glass to this introduction. It starts as a noise, a great pounding like drums or a cannon that Lestat can’t ignore. It is overwhelming.
It was a great ominous din that grew closer and closer.
For one second I was afraid. I stretched in the earth. I forced my fingers up toward the surface. Sightless, weightless, I was floating in the soil, and I couldn’t breathe suddenly, I couldn’t scream, and it seemed that if I could have screamed, I would have fried out so loud that all the glass for miles about me would have been shattered.
It was someone coming, this sound, some creature so powerful that even in the silence the trees and the flowers and the air itself did feel it. The dumb creatures of the earth did know. The vermin ran from it, the felines darting out of its path.
Maybe this is death, I thought.
Hey, um, you know the number one way to show a character is somehow preternatural and evil in horror stories, usually in spite of a friendly façade? Animals hate and/or are frightened of them. The cats know what’s up, is what I’m saying here.
The language is also downright threatening. It might well be going for awe-inspiring, but the word choice (“ominous”) and things like Lestat’s instinctive desire to scream and escape (just like the animals) create an impression for the reader that this is something that’s going to do our protagonist harm. And, I mean, he does. Just not in the “immediate murder” sense.
Lestat’s fear doesn’t last for long, though. He’s quickly filled with a feeling of sublime transcendence.
The destruction of Nicki becomes a tiny pinpoint of vanishing light. Th death of my brothers disintegrates into the great peace of the inevitable.
Hey, remember how when Lestat was being psychically manipulated by Armand (as well as when it happened to Louis in IWTV), those scenes were characterized by our narrator suddenly having emotions that were completely oppositional to his previous mental state, and having them at a moment that coincidentally coincided with the arrival of a new character? Weird.
All of a sudden Lestat is actively fighting the earth, but not because he wants to get away. No, now he’s doing it’s because the stranger is looking for him. And somehow Lestat knows this (some mysterious way!).
And quite completely I understood that it was looking for me, this sound, it was seeking me out. It was searching like a beam of light. I couldn’t lie here any more. I had to answer.
He struggles, and then he’s lifted out by great strong arms, and Lestat is overwhelmed not because it’s the first person, vampire, or living thing he’s seen in who knows how long, but because this guy is so great and handsome you guys, wow.
A man in the prime of life at the moment of the immortal gift. And the square face, with its slightly hollowed cheeks, its long full mouth, stamped with terrifying gentleness and peace.
“Drink,” he said, eyebrows rising slightly, lips shaping the word carefully, slowly, as if it were a kiss.
As Magnus had done on that lethal night so many eons ago, he raised his hand now and moved the cloth back from his throat. The vein, dark purple beneath the translucent preternatural skin, offered itself. And the sound commenced again, the overpowering sound, and it lifted me right off the earth and drew me in.
You know this is going to be a great dude, because the first thing this situation reminds Lestat of is his rapist. It’s possible that the intent was to make this a bookending of sorts: Lestat was made violently, and now he’s pulled out and given blood in a loving embrace (once Lestat starts drinking the language is suuuuuuuuper sexual). But…the rest of the prose in this scene doesn’t sell that impression at all.
The approach is “ominous.” Animals flee in his wake like he’s Hannibal (with apologies to Mr. Lector), and Lestat is clearly being hypnotized into acting agreeably, the disjunction in his thoughts lining up with other examples of mental manipulation throughout the series.
And while Lestat says that Marius “offered” the blood to him, he’s not actually given a chance to consent. He’s “overpowered” by the sound of Marius’ heart, or the power of his mind, or whatever it is, and then he’s drinking. He didn’t agree to it. He didn’t get the choice. Marius is just better than Magnus at making his victims think this is what they wanted all along. And Lestat wants very, very badly to believe that there’s someone who can give him answers right now.
And that’s the end of this section. Part VII is technically the last part of Lestat’s “autobiography” before things return to the present day and the concert, as well as the thickest individual bit. But don’t worry, I promise we’ll be moving through that bit a lot faster.
NEXT TIME: Marius is the worst for many, many reasons.