Hannibal * by Thomas Harris

It’s the season to be scary! La la la la la la la 🙂
Hannibal fell on this year’s horror list and I got to say I was not expecting to pick up the THIRD book from the series when buying this book. But I should have expected it as Silence of The Lambs was the first one.

I’ve seen the movies so I was slightly prepared to jump into a third novel in a series without reading the previous two – so let’s see what happened.

Hannibal is no longer locked up (and that significantly diminishes the interest the character previously managed to pique in the movies).

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Locked up, with only his intellect and ingenuity at his disposal to manipulate whatever unfortunate soul he deems worthy, he represented a much more intriguing, insidious creature.

One only has to recall that one time he managed to talk a fellow inmate into biting off and swallowing his tongue just by whispering to him at night. What those words were exactly, no one knows, and that’s precisely what makes it disturbing.

“Dr. Lecter stood at a distance from her, very still, as he had stood in his cell when she first saw him. We are accustomed to seeing him unfettered now. It is not shocking to see him in open space with another mortal creature.”

Hannibal is a lengthy book (500 odd pages) and it moves a bit sluggishly through the action.
There is mediocre dialogue, mediocre scenery, virtually no suspense (but a plethora of pointlessly putrid acts), and a meandering narrative that often lacks consistency of time and place.

“Hannibal” does not induce fear or revulsion so much as groans and guffaws. But don’t worry: there’s a bleeding HIV-positive woman holding a baby whose last line is “let’s swap fluids, bitch” before she’s shot to death mid-crime.

tumblr_ltbr93oT1W1qaajijo1_400.gifClarice is once again she is found in a situation where she acted instinctively, got the job done, and got suspended because it is against regulations or some shit. She is like one of those rogue cop characters from 80s action movies where she plays by her rules and even if she ends up saving lives, her actions are frowned upon because it seems the end NEVER justifies the means.

There are man eating pigs who are intended to be filmed in the act by people from the porn industry, at the behest of a sub-villain recovering from having his face chewed up by dogs. Thankfully, he gets by with having the tears of children put into his IV. No, that last sentence was not a joke.

There is a substantial subplot involving Mason’s peculiar sister, Hannibal’s traumatic memory of the tragic fate of his sister Mischa plays a considerable role, and Ardelia Mapp and Jack Crawford (both excised from the film) have been carried over from Silence of the Lambs, which make for wonderful additions to the plot, even though my reservations about a freely operating Lecter were still very much present. Yet, for being an otherwise accomplished, even highly enjoyable thriller, Hannibal unfortunately ends with a callous betrayal.

Not of the kind perpetrated by one fictional character to another mind you, but by the author to his audience. As endings go, it surely must go down in history as one of the most ill-advised and ignominious. Normally I am a passionate advocate for the idea of the creator’s absolute sovereignty, who is under no obligation whatsoever to accommodate his audience. Yet here both Harris’ lack of judgment and the unwillingness (cowardice?) of his editor to stand firm and demand the ending to be replaced simply must be deplored.

A mere 20 pages. That’s all it took for Harris to destroy the essence of Clarice Starling, one of the best loved female characters in all of fiction, only in order to ham-fistedly drive home the theme of mutual attraction between her and Lecter. Granted, this dynamic between the two was always there, lurking beneath the surface, but the impossibility of it ever materializing was exactly what made it interesting. Yet Hannibal ends as a twisted love story, fully consummated, which Harris apparently feels the need to make explicit in detail:

“Their relationship has a great deal to do with the penetration of Clarice Starling, which she avidly welcomes and encourages.”

PENETRATION. PENETRATION!
Sweet God. It really puts the reader in his/her place, reminding you that you have no control over the characters you read.
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This Clarice is a radical departure from the individual established in Silence of the Lambs who, even in her inexperience as a rookie, very much had a mind of her own.

Starling was intrigued by Lecter to be sure, but she wasn’t as foolish as to think some healthy relationship could ever be maintained with him, an amoral cannibal. I didn’t buy it, even if she was initially under the influence of drugs and hypnosis. It’s clear in later passages she isn’t anymore under that influence, but actually chooses this life, with all her mental faculties intact. It totally goes against all we had come to learn about her. Above all else, Starling is strong-willed, highly intelligent, determined and has a rock-solid moral compass.

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It’s incredible that Harris didn’t realize those were the exact qualities that made her so popular in the first place. Ultimately, she just ends up as Lecter’s plaything, a puppet of his own creation. It really makes one wonder what went on in the author’s head at the time. Was he under time restraint, his deadline fast approaching? I’d really love to know the answer to that one.

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Hannibal is far from being a bad book, and I suggest you do read it, but go in with expectations tempered. With the ending being what it is, I can’t possibly give it more than two stars. Just goes to show that even if the first 500 or so pages were good and some passages even quite excellent, the whole enterprise can be ruined by the subsequent twenty.

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