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2004-10-10My review: Anne Rice's Blood Canticle + Amazon reviewing

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One of the nice things about reading something*positive on a semi-regular basis are the blogs Randy occasionally posts to the index page. One such was made regarding Rice's rebuttal to a slew of negative comments on Amazon US. The text of her meta-review has since been deleted from Amazon (update: no it hasn't!) but the text was confirmed genuine by her official site; anyway, her response has been torn apart on parts of the web in the much the same manner as Blood Canticle itself, with about the same level of personal abuse levelled at the author. A little self-important she may be, but I really think it's possible to critique a novel without childish vitriol such as: "Go mourn your dead husband and shut up."

I'm not going to get into that too much, but it did serve as impetus to track down a copy Blood Canticle in PDF format, seeing as I hadn't noticed the paperback's release. (Incidentally, I don't see a difference between this and being the fiftieth person to borrow a copy from a library—if I want a book to lift down off a shelf and open on a whim or re-read frequently, I'll always buy. Memnoch and Merrick are books I habitually dip into, hence I own copies. Blackwood Farm, Blood And Gold, The Tale Of The Body Thief, Blood Canticle are books I may read once or twice and thus am content to not. If I habitually re-read a book it's generally for a particular style of writing and/or particularly fascinating concepts, especially those which are hard to retain detail of in memory.)

Blood Canticle is a essentially another part of a larger story flipping over to Lestat as a narrator—the first book-length installment of Lestat regular readers have had in a while, rather than having him step in for a chapter or two. It's always tricky with first-person narratives to decide to what extent any clumsiness of language is the author, to what extent intentional character writing, but I'm inclined to give Rice the benefit of any doubt. Sure, when Lestat breaks off to say things such as, "So okay, where was I? Yeah, cool." I hear Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox, but there's actually not that much of this form of language pot-pourri in there—nor is it exactly a stretch to believe coming from Lestat, whose characterisation is basically that he does whatever he feels like. In essence: if the narrative is overwritten, this actually fits the character.

What I think a lot of reviewers objected to most was the first chapter, which not only lays on thickly the slang but warns readers who disliked Memnoch (the fifth and probably most controversial volume in this series) that they probably won't appreciate this a great deal either. Quick recap of Memnoch: Lestat gets taken on a tour of creation by a being claiming to be the devil of Christian mythology, is supposedly brought before the supreme being of that same mythology, etc. Speaking from a rather strongly irreligious perspective, I found that book and its central premise—what if creation is an experiment—fascinating and an effective bit of existential horror. Likewise, I don't find the notion that Lestat is changed by that experience a stretch of imagination—he's fascinated by the concept of redemption (in whatever religion and form, but predictably with most reference to Catholicism) and duly spends a few asides in the course of the text ruminating on it. As the author writes in her now infamous talkback on Amazon:

"Lestat's wanting to be a saint is a vision larded through and through with his characteristic vanity. It connects perfectly with his earlier ambitions to be an actor in Paris, a rock star in the modern age. [...] That Lestat renounced this saintly ambition within a matter of pages is plain enough for you to see."

For plot, the novel expands upon the established relationship between the Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches series, drawing together strands of both—about half of the pages here deal with the vampire side of things, the other half with the Taltos. It's a lot for one narrative to encompass, and there's a lot of backreferencing of Blackwood Farm. Lestat's perspective on the Taltos has more to do with names and descriptions of visuals than the several new characters we're suddenly introduced to.

This isn't a book which endeavours to tie up all loose ends neatly, nor do I particularly want to ramble on about details of the plot. If you enjoyed the first-person narrative of The Tale Of The Body Thief, you'll probably enjoy leafing through this. It's a fast read.

Some bits I particularly enjoyed were Mona's brief essay on vampirism, academic rhythms and all, and Maharet's letter to Lestat almost at the end of the tale—I suspect this to be very much the voice of Rice to her creation. My favourite nugget of the whole piece though, is this:

She was a presence within me forever. My loneliness would never again be as bitter. Over the years she might drift away from me, she might come to condemn the point of passion that had brought her to my arms. She might be lost to me in some other mundane fashion that would wring tears from me all my nights.

But I'd never really lose her. Because I wouldn't lose the lesson of love I'd learned through her. And this she had given me as I had tried to give it to her.

Maybe I'll get to writing something more on this eventually.


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