JULY 1999 |
ALSO THIS MONTH
In his long-awaited sequel to "Silence of the Lambs", Thomas Harris sets a new standard for literary horror. Reviving one of the genre's most fascinating evils in Dr. Hannibal Lecter could have turned into a shoddily written money making scheme, but Harris manages to turn "Hannibal" into a more gripping tour de force than its predecessor.
Due to the careful and thorough prying into Dr. Lector's mind, we experience the world as completely and intelligently as Hannibal does. Harris' greatest achievement is actually fostering feelings of empathy and even compassion for someone who has resided for years on the FBI's most wanted list. Reading the novel (and soon, watching the movie), we actually care what happens to a calculating, cannibalistic killer - no small feat for a writer.
The reader is reintroduced to Agent Clarice Starling seven years after she worked with Dr. Lector in a mental hospital to capture the serial killer "Buffalo Bill". Seven years after Lector's violent escape from prison. Lector is still at large, joyously experiencing life to the fullest. Starling is a shell of her former self, knocked down by sexism, sour grapes and a glass ceiling. She is connected with Lector again when he sends her a letter after seeing her picture in the newspaper following a sensationalised attempt to pin a wrongful death on her. And, thus, another glorious chase is on.
This time, however, there is another party tracking Lector, through which Harris develops much of his suspense and horrific plot line. The second party, Mason Verger, is a former patient and victim of Lector's who has been left horribly disfigured and is bent on torturous revenge. In Verger, Harris has, believe it or not, created a character more evil and frightening than Hannibal the Cannibal himself. A rich man from his family's meat business, Verger survives on machines that help him breath, move, eat and act as tear ducts for his one eye. His encounter with Lector before the Doctor's arrest resulted in his paralysis and facial disfigurement after being voluntarily feed to two dogs while under the influence of heavy drugs. His planned revenge, fittingly, is an elaborate filming of Lector being fed to wild boars. This plan carries the plot to a wonderfully detailed Italy for part of the book.
Many issues come into play as a dishonored Starling works to find Lector before Verger has a chance to put his plan into action. FBI corruption, Starling's past and a botched arrest all block Starling's way.
The true wonder of "Hannibal" is living as Lector: watching him work, listening to him play his music, observing him with art, catching a glimpse of the distorted brilliant mind that can kill so easily and without remorse. Through his own self-analysis and trips into his "memory palace", we learn of his first exposure to cannibalism and the traumatic effect it had on him. While we never really find out why he thrives as a killer, we begin to see Lector as an elegant human being rather than the monster he is. In this paradox lies the true horror of Harris' work as it shows that despite outward appearances, there may always be an evil lurking within.
This said, I found the ending to be fairly disappointing because of the prejudices and opinions that I had drawn after reading the last two books of the series - the first, lesser known, is "The Red Dragon" which introduces Lector. Based on the character profiles and past events, I found the last few chapters a bitter pill to swallow as a certain belief system needs to be shattered to accept the events as plausible. To Harris' credit, he kept me thinking about the complexities of his world and the evil that inhabits it well after I had finished his book.
KEVIN RIDOLFI of Pawtucket, RI, is the creator and editor of Renaissance Online Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]