I feel kind of strange bothering to review the book but it occurs to me that there's plenty of people in the modern world (versus the dark, tragic, and brooding era of the nineties from which I come from--oohhh angst and woe!) that might not have picked this book up because vampires have over-saturated the media. Vampires that are ripped off from Anne Rice, specifically, have over-saturated the media. But, having re-read this novel--it's still damned good.
It's a simple enough tale, Louis the vampire tells his story of how he was turned into one of the undead by Lestat and how his (un)life was pretty much downhill from then on. At one point, they try to repair their relationship by having a child but Claudia proves to be far more psychotic than both of them put together. Louis is the ultimate tragic vampire because while he feels guilt over what he's done, he's still a monster and not secretly a good guy. At the end of the day, he's a killer and prefers to live another day eating people versus meeting the sun. That's why it's a tragedy versus "living forever is awesome!"
I think what makes Anne Rice's prose so effective is that it really gets into the nitty gritty of what a vampire's life would be and captures a lot of what you might think about. Louis starts the story in the pre-Revolutionary part of American history, specifically New Orleans, and we get to follow the centuries pass him by. None of it particularly matters to him because he's not fighting against the British or in the Civil War, he's just living his life from night to night. History passes the vampire along and that is a striking idea which we don't really appreciate until we take a moment to think about it.
I also have to give credit to Anne Rice for the fact the book is incredibly potent because of its small cast: there's really only a handful of characters in the book and we get to know all of them extremely well. There's Louis, Lestat, Claudia, and Armand with almost no one else mattering. Lestat would eventually take over the Vampire Chronicles, perhaps not to the series' misfortune, but he is a very charismatic figure even when he's being repulsive. Claudia is more of a Maguffin than a character but her wild and free expression of life without remorse is its own story.
The real heart of the book is existentialism and what do you do for meaning in a life seemingly without meaning. Louis remains Catholic in his misery and guilt despite the fact he has no more proof (some might argue even less) than regular mortals in the existence of God. Lestat is determined to live a life of pleasure despite the fact it remains ultimately meaningless. Claudia's life is joyful until she realizes she's trapped in a life defined by two men who used her for emotional fulfillment.
Her writing is also something I feel the need to comment on. It flows gently across the page, establishing each scene and how it feels. When Anne Rice is at her best, you feel how it reads for lack of a better term. We understand the melancholy but also the violence, anger, and other intense emotions that play across the book's pages. I've only known a few other authors who invoke those kinds of feelings.
There's many classic moments in the book that stick with me years later. I think one of the best was when Louis and Claudia journey to Transylvania (or at least Romania) and encounter the disgusting zombie-like undead of myth. Its a moment where they realize no one is better at being a vampire than themselves and lose all hope--perhaps too soon or not as completely as they should have. Much of the book was made as a reaction to the imitators of Dracula beforehand and while Anne wasn't the only one to improve on the vampire formula, she remains the best.
I think this is one of those seminal novels of the genre which every fan of the supernatural, horror, and urban fantasy (though it's not the latter--it certainly influenced it) should check out. Yes, a lot of it is going to be familiar to people who are coming at it after a wave of imitators but that's not Anne Rice's fault. It's about as close to an authentic literary novel about the undead as exists past Dracula itself. Frankly, yes, you could also just watch the movie that manages to capture virtually the entirety of the book's appeal but I have a different suggestion: watch it *and* read the book.