I believe this is the last book of the Vampire Chronicles which I truly enjoyed. It’s the gayest too – possibly due to the coming out of Anne Rice’s boy but who knows?
Lestat, after facing the wrath of the elders and the seduction of Akasha, is being haunted/stalked by a demon, who wants his soul. Nothing new so far when it comes to the supernatural world…
What sets this book apart from others of its genre is the discussions that Lestat has with the Devil and a unique view into the afterlife – into the life of Angels before Man and how heaven and hell feel like.
The story is told from the point of view of Lestat, the vampire, who after centuries of being buried underground has surfaced again to the human world and had become a rock star. The Devil first manifests himself as a marble statue that Lestat crosses in the exploration of an old attic:
At once, a great marble statue of an angel startled me. I came round out of the door and almost ran smack into it. It was one of those angels that used to stand inside church doors, offering holy water in half shells. I had seen them in Europe and in New Orleans.
It was gigantic, and its cruel profile stared blindly into the shadows. Far down the hall, the light came up from the busy little street that ran into Fifth. The usual New York songs of traffic were coming through the walls.
This angel was poised as if he had just landed from the skies to offer his sacred basin. I slapped his bent knee gently and went around him. I didn’t like him. I could smell parchment, papyrus, various kinds of metal.
The fight between good and evil has been raging on in the imagination of the Humankind since times immemorial and the history of the Humans as seen by a supernatural being is out of the ordinary. Now, the question on everyone’s mind is why the Devil would pick a vampire as a tool against God?
You know,” he said, “you always have had a conscience! That’s precisely what I’m after, don’t you see? Conscience, reason, purpose, dedication. Good Lord, I couldn’t have overlooked you. And I’ll tell you something. It was as though you sent for me.”
“The Devil is a famous liar.”
“My enemies are famous detractors. Neither God nor I tell lies per se. But look, I don’t expect for a moment that you should accept me on faith. I didn’t come here to convince you of things through conversation. I’ll take you to Hell and to Heaven, if you like, you can talk to God for as long as He allows, and you desire. Not God the Father, precisely, not En Sof, but… well, all of this will become clear to you. Only there’s no point if I cannot count upon your willing intent to see the truth, your willing desire to turn your life from aimlessness and meaninglessness into a crucial battle for the fate of the world.”
Memnoch takes Lestat to Heaven and Hell and from all the books I have read, Anne Rice’s depiction was the best.
“Now, it is difficult to go to Heaven without the slightest preparation, and you will be stunned and confused by what you see. But if you don’t see this first, you’ll hunger for it throughout our dialogue, and so I’m taking you to the very gates. Be prepared that the laughter you hear is not laughter. It is joy. It will come through to you as laughter because that is the only way such ecstatic sound can be physically received or perceived.”
No sooner had he finished the last syllable than we found ourselves standing in a garden, on a bridge across a stream! For one moment, the light so flooded my eyes that I shut them, thinking the sun of our solar system had found me and was about to burn me the way I should have been burnt: a vampire turned into a torch and then forever extinguished.
But this sourceless light was utterly penetrating and utterly benign. I opened my eyes, and realized that we were once again amid hundreds of other individuals, and on the banks of the stream and in all directions I saw beings greeting each other, embracing, conversing, weeping, and crying out. As before, the shapes were in all degrees of distinctness. One man was as solid as if I’d run into him in die street of the city; another individual seemed no more than a giant facial expression; while others seemed whirling bits and pieces of material and light. Others were utterly diaphanous. Some seemed invisible, except that I knew they were there! The number was impossible to determine.
The place was limitless. The waters of the stream itself were brilliant with the reflected light; the grass so vividly green that it seemed in the very act of becoming grass, of being born, as if in a painting or an animated film!
I clung to Memnoch and turned to look at him in this new light form. He was the direct opposite now of the accumulating dark angel, yet the face had the very same strong features of the granite statue, and the eyes had the same tender scowl. Behold the angels and devils of William Blake and you’ve seen it. It’s beyond innocence.
“Now we’re going in,” he said.
I realized I was clinging to him with both hands.
“You mean this isn’t Heaven!” I cried, and my voice came out as direct speech, intimate, just between us.
“No,” he said, smiling and guiding me across this bridge. “When we get inside, you must be strong. You must realize you are in your earthbound body, unusual as it is, and your senses will be overwhelmed! You will not be able to endure what you see as you would if you were dead or an angel or my lieutenant, which is what I want you to become.”
There was no time to argue. We had passed swiftly across the bridge; giant gates were opening before us. I couldn’t see the summit of the walls.
The sound swelled and enveloped us, and indeed it was like laughter, waves upon waves of shimmering and lucid laughter, only it was canorous, as though all those who laughed also sang canticles in full voice at the same time.
What I saw, however, overwhelmed me as much as the sound.
This was very simply the densest, the most intense, the busiest, and the most profoundly magnificent place I’d ever beheld. Our language needs endless synonyms for beautiful; the eyes could see what the tongue cannot possibly describe.
Once again, people were everywhere, people filled with light, and of distinct anthropomorphic shape; they had arms, legs, beaming faces, hair, garments of all different kinds, yet no costume of any seemingly great importance, and the people were moving, traveling paths in groups or alone, or coming together in patterns, embracing, clasping, reaching out, and holding hands.
I turned to the right and to the left, and then all around me, and in every direction saw these multitudes of beings, wrapped in conversation or dialogue or some sort of interchange, some of them embracing and kissing, and others dancing, and the clusters and groups of them continuing to shift and grow or shrink and spread out.
Indeed, the combination of seeming disorder and order was the mystery. This was not chaos. This was not confusion. This was not a din. It seemed the hilarity of a great and final gathering, and by final I mean it seemed a perpetually unfolding resolution of something, a marvel of sustained revelation, a gathering and growing understanding shared by all who participated in it, as they hurried or moved languidly (or even in some cases sat about doing very little), amongst hills and valleys, and along pathways, and through wooded areas and into buildings which seemed to grow one out of another like no structure on earth I’d ever seen.
Nowhere did I see anything specifically domestic such as a house, or even a palace. On the contrary, the structures were infinitely larger, filled with as bright a light as the garden, with corridors and staircases branching here and there with perfect fluidity. Yet ornament covered everything. Indeed, the surfaces and textures were so varied that any one of them might have absorbed me forever.
I cannot convey the sense of simultaneous observation that I felt. I have to speak now in sequence. I have to take various parts of this limitless and brilliant environment, in order to shed my own fallible light on the whole.
There were archways, towers, halls, galleries, gardens, great fields, forests, streams. One area flowed into another, and through them all I was traveling, with Memnoch beside me, securely holding me in a solid grip. Again and again, my eyes were drawn to some spectacularly beautiful sculpture or cascade of flowers or a giant tree reaching out into the cloudless blue, only to have my body turned back around by him as if I were being kept to a tightrope from which I might fatally fall.
I laughed; I wept; I did both, and my body was convulsing with the emotions. I clung to hum and tried to see over his shoulder and around him, and spun in his grip like an infant, turning to lock eyes with this or that person who happened to glance at me, or to look for a steady moment as the groups and the parliaments and congregations shifted and moved.
We were in a vast hall suddenly. “God, if David could see this!” I cried; the books and scrolls were endless, and there seemed nothing illogical or confusing in the manner in which all these documents lay open and ready to be examined.
“Don’t look, because you won’t remember it,” Memnoch said.
He snatched at my hand as if I were a toddler. I had tried to catch hold of a scroll that was filled with an absolutely astonishing explanation of something to do with atoms and photons and neutrinos. But he was right. The knowledge was gone immediately, and the unfolding garden surrounded us as I lost my balance and fell against him. I looked down at the ground and saw flowers of complete perfection; flowers that were the flowers that our flowers of the world might become! I don’t know any other way to describe how well realized were the petals and the centers and the colors. The colors themselves were so distinct and so finely delineated that I was unsure suddenly that our spectrum was even involved.
I mean, I don’t think our spectrum of color was the limit! I think there was some other set of rules. Or it was merely an expansion, a gift of being able to see combinations of color which are not visible chemically on earth.
The waves of laughter, of singing, of conversation, became so loud as to overwhelm my other senses; I felt blinded by sound suddenly; and yet the light was laying bare every precious detail.
“Sapphirine!” I cried out suddenly, trying to identify the greenish blue of the great leaves surrounding us and gently waving to and fro, and Memnoch smiled and nodded as if in approval, reaching again to stop me from touching Heaven, from trying to grab some of the magnificence I saw.
“But I can’t hurt it if I touch, can I?” It seemed unthinkable suddenly that anyone could bruise anything here, from the walls of quartz and crystal with their ever-rising spires and belfries, to the sweet, soft vines twining upwards in the branches of trees dripping with magnificent fruits and flowers. “No, no, I wouldn’t want to hurt it!” I said.
My own voice was distinct to me, though the voices of all those around me seemed to overpower it.
“Look!” said Memnoch. “Look at them. Look!” And he turned my head as if to force me not to cower against his chest but to stare right into the multitudes. And I perceived that these were alliances I was witnessing, clans that were gathering, families, groups of kindred, or true friends, beings whose knowledge of each other was profound, creatures who shared similar physical and material manifestations! And for one brave moment, one brave instant, I saw that all these beings from one end of this limitless place to the other were connected, by hand or fingertip or arm or the touch of a foot. That, indeed, clan slipped within the womb of clan, and tribe spread out to intersperse amongst countless families, and families joined to form nations, and that the entire congregation was in fact a palpable and visible and interconnected configuration! Everyone impinged upon
everyone else. Everyone drew, in his or her separateness, upon the separateness of everyone else!
I blinked, dizzy, near to collapsing. Memnoch held me.
“Look again!” he whispered, holding me up.
But I covered my eyes; because I knew that if I saw the interconnections again, I would collapse! I would perish inside my own sense of separateness! Yet each and every being I saw was separate.
“They are all themselves!” I cried. My hands were clapped on my eyes. I could hear the raging and soaring songs more intensely; the long riffs and cascades of voices. And beneath all there came such a sequence of flowing rhythms, lapping one over the other, that I began to sing.
I sang with everyone! I stood still, free of Memnoch for a moment, opened my eyes, and heard my voice come out of me and rise as if into the universe itself.
I sang and I sang; but my song was full of longing and immense curiosity and frustration as well as celebration. And it came home to me, thudded into me, that nowhere around me was there anyone who was unsafe or unsatisfied, was there anything approximating stasis or boredom; yet the word “frenzy” was in no way applicable to the constant movement and shifting of faces and forms that I saw. My song was the only sad note in Heaven, and yet the sadness was transfigured immediately into harmony, into a form of psalm or canticle, into a hymn of praise and wonder and gratitude.
I cried out. I think I cried the single word “God.” This was not a prayer or an admission, or a plea, but simply a great exclamation.
We stood in a doorway. Beyond appeared vista upon vista, and I was vaguely sensible suddenly that over the nearby balustrade there lay below the world.
The world as I had never seen it in all its ages, with all its secrets of the past revealed. I had only to rush to the railing and I could peer down into the time of Eden or Ancient Mesopotamia, or a moment when Roman legions had marched through the woods of my earthly home. I would see the great eruption of Vesuvius spill its horrid , deadly ash down upon the ancient living city of Pompeii.
Everything there to be known and finally comprehended, all questions settled, the smell of another time, the taste of it— I ran towards the balustrade, which seemed to be farther and farther away. Faster and faster I headed towards it. Yet still the distance was impossible, and suddenly I became intensely aware that this vision of Earth would be mingled with smoke and fire and suffering, and that it might utterly demolish in me the overflowing sense of joy.
I had to see, however. I was not dead. I was not here to stay. Memnoch reached out for me. But I ran faster than he could. An immense light rose suddenly, a direct source infinitely hotter and more illuminating than the splendid light that already fell without prejudice on everything I could see. This great gathering magnetic light grew larger and larger until the world down below, the great dim landscape of smoke and horror and suffering, was turned white by this light, and rendered like an abstraction of itself, on the verge of combusting.
Memnoch pulled me back, throwing up his arms to cover my eyes.
I did the same. I realized he had bowed his head and was hiding his own eyes behind me.
I heard him sigh, or was it a moan? I couldn’t tell. For one second the sound filled the universe; all the cries and laughter and singing; and something mournful from the depths of Earth—all this sound was caught in Memnoch’s sigh.
Suddenly I felt his strong arms relaxed and releasing me.
I looked up, and in the midst of the flood of light I saw again the balustrade, and against it stood a single form.
It was a tall figure who stood with his hands on the railing, looking over it and down. This appeared to be a man. He turned around and looked at me and reached out to receive me.
Wonderful but there is more and there is more still. A lovely story about a ghost talking to his lover, a nun and Lestat’s decision.
Well worth a read so if you haven’t already, you can grab it from Amazon