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Book Review: Hannibal

hannibal bookLong before I read the book The Silence of The Lambs, I watched the movie. Actually, I’m not even sure I knew that there was a book at the time, but I stumbled across a copy at the local library and read it in two or three sittings. It was one of those rare cases where the movie and the book are wonderful, but more interestingly to me, did not seem to beg comparisons. They were both great.

The same cannot be said about Hannibal, the book or the movie. I bought this book the day it came out. I was working as a delivery driver for a gold mine that summer, and every time I took a break or stopped at a light I was reading. Hannibal Lecter is  still be my second-favorite literary villain of all time, just behind Judge Holden from Blood Meridian. But in Hannibal by Thomas Harris, it just wasn’t as good.

This isn’t entirely the author’s fault. I mean, when I read Silence I had never met anyone like Hannibal Lecter. So the sequels could not be as fresh. Still…I want what I want.

Plot summary of Hannibal

Hannibal has escaped and is living in Italy where he is posing as Dr. Fell, a truly awesome name.

Clarice Starling is, shortly after the book opens, dealing with a bunch of bureaucratic bullies who are trying to discredit her and wreck her career after the shootout in the opening scene.

Mason Verger, Lecter’s only surviving victim, is pursuing an ambitious, absurd plan that will teach the good Doctor a lesson.

Various detectives and thugs in American and Italy are working on both sides of all of these plotlines.

But compared to Silence, the characters in Hannibal feel like paper dolls to me. Not much in the way of development. Verger in particular seems like a bit of a cartoon, a feeling which was a viewing of the movie adaptation did nothing to change. Even Hannibal seems to be less…whatever it was that made him so memorable in Silence of The Lambs.

He’s still brilliant. He’s still crazy. He’s still Anthony Hopkins. But he’s bogged down in a story with some serious elements of nonsense. This wouldn’t matter if it were not a sequel to a novel that had, in my opinion, zero nonsense.

I won’t spoil it, but the ending is absolutely the paragon of silliness. I didn’t dislike the book, and it wasn’t nearly as disappointing as the wretched Hannibal Rising, but I wanted more.

Sometimes I suspect that Thomas Harris might not be crafting his novels with my needs in mind…


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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jodi Kaplan December 13, 2010, 8:00 pm

    “Sometimes I suspect that Thomas Harris might not be crafting his novels with my needs in mind…”

    The nerve! (or noive as we say here in the Big Apple).

  • Brent Partner December 14, 2010, 5:37 pm

    To use a filmic comparison Harris did to Hannibal what George Lucas did to the Star Wars franchise. In short, an overly complicated plot with little attention to character development (in some cases totally ignoring their psyche from the earlier two novels). Hannibal is a far more enjoyable and effective character as an omniscient demonic figure orchestrating events deep from the sidelines than as a primary antagonist or protagonist (not sure which he was).

    And there lies my problem in this novel. Who is the protagonist, Starling, Lecter or Verger? All have an elements of the protaganist (Verger more so in the book) but they are all morally ambivalent so there is no natural decision made for the audience by Harris. This would be o.k if the plot wasn’t so damned complex.

    Francis Dolarhyde could have been a protaganist in Red Dragon but because Will Graham was more likeable as a character and I didn’t have to flick back and reread complex plot developments in that novel I had a pleasant reading experience and my poor middle aged brain was not too taxed.

    My vote is for Red Dragon as best novel by a long chalk and for Silence of the Lambs as best film in the series (although I enjoy Michael Mann’s “Manhunter” an adaptation of Dragon as well)

  • Lexy Bernard May 17, 2011, 6:37 am

    You have got to be joking…… and just WHO are you to be judging someone else’s work?? You write as though you are still in 3rd grade! “Great”? “Awesome”?? Fix your grammatical skills before offering weak judgement on others.