Hannibal By Thomas Harris

A good novel but not a great novel in the ‘Silence of the Lambs’ series.

Thomas Harris really knows how to write suspense and grisly deaths, there were no disappointments here, some highlights included:

  • Mason’s plan to have Hannibal eaten alive by wild pigs, which looks theatrical and deliberately ironic on paper but is much, much better in motion. But despite all this, I still don’t see Mason as the main antagonist, Hannibal still takes the number one spot. And this is similar to how I felt in ‘Silence of the Lambs’, Buffalo Bill couldn’t compare to Hannibal even though Buffalo Bill was based off actual serial murderers.
  • Mason’s death was downright gross, I loved it. I wiki’d the plot of the 2001 film with Anthony Hopkins, and wow did they miss out on a great scene.
  • Despite the gory nature of Krendlar’s death, it didn’t feel over over-the-top (something that you risk when you try to out-gross your last book). I was surprised at Clarice’s reaction to his torture though, speaking of which…

Very disappointed with the ending for Clarice, maybe it’s the feminist in me. Clarice is a tough, no-nonsense smartass with an incredible sense of duty why would you turn her into some doll?! I also felt like giving her a mind palace (is this an actual psychiatry term, I thought they just made it up for BBC Sherlock?) to cope with her issues was a bit of a cop out. She was also the only person who could mentally best Hannibal and it showed through even when she was under hypnosis; Hannibal still couldn’t entirely predict her actions and tweak her exactly the way he wanted.

“…I’ll confess it is pleasant to look at you asleep. You’re quite beautiful, Clarice.”

“Looks are an accident, Dr Lecter.”

“If comeliness were earned, you’d still be beautiful.”

“Thanks.”

“Do no say ‘Thanks.’” A fractional turn of his was head enough to dash his annoyance like a glass thrown in the fireplace.

“I say what I mean,” Starling said. “Would you like it better if I said ‘I’m glad you find me so.’ That would be a little fancier, and equally true.”

She raised her glass beneath her level prairie gaze, taking back nothing.

It occurred to Dr Lecter in the moment that with all his knowledge and intrusion, he could never entirely predict her, or own her at all. He could feed the caterpillar, he could whisper through the chrysalis; what hatched out followed its own nature and was beyond him. He wondered if she had the .45 on her leg beneath the gown.

The fascination and morbid curiosity that Hannibal has for Clarice is one of the real drawcards of this series, but I think ‘Silence of the Lambs’ did a much better job of dissecting the relationship and highlighting the unique hold they had over each other. Obsessively buying wine made in the year of her birth was a nice touch, but nothing says romance like ordering an inmate to swallow his own tongue because he threw cum on you. I imagine that’s the equivalent for laying down your cape over a mud puddle in Hannibal’s mind.

Also, not only is it clichéd to have your male and female enemies fall for each other but this particular scene between Clarice and Hannibal was ham-fisted and pretty oedipal:

She said, “Hannibal Lector, did your mother feed you at her breast?”

“Yes.”

“Did you ever feel that you had to relinquish the breast to Mischa? Did you ever feel you were required to give it up to her?”

A beat. “I don’t recall that, Clarice. If I gave it up, I did it gladly.”

Clarice Starling reached her cupped hand into the deep neckline of her gown and freed her breast, quickly peaky in the open air. “You don’t have to give up this one,” she said. Looking always into his eyes, with her trigger finger she took warm Chateau d’Yquem from her mouth and a thick sweet drop suspended from her nipple like a golden cabochon and trembled with her breathing.

When you create such memorable characters like Hannibal and Clarice, the bar has been set very high. Such characters take a life of their own and it becomes tricky to write them in a way that’ll satisfy your audience due to their divisive nature since every man and his dog is very insistent on what should happen to them or how they should behave. The book is largely saved by the writing style; all the grisly murders are written in a way that doesn’t feel like it was outlandish for the sake of being outlandish.

On another note…

  • I liked Ardelia Mapp, it’s refreshing to have someone smart, level-headed and normal in a book where no one really questions taking orders from a man missing his face.
  • The scenes in Italy were pretty long.
  • I thought Barney’s desire to see all the Vermeers was kind of cute.

Edit:

I did some additional research on the concept of a mind palace after I had written this and as it turns out, it is an actual technique used, dating back to the Ancient Greeks.

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