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DarkEcho Horror
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Book Review

Hannibal
Thomas Harris
Delacorte/$27.95/480p
ISBN: 038529929X

Review by Thomas S Roche

Seven years after the end of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, our favorite psycho cannibal is in hiding in Italy, observing with voyeuristic pleasure the career tribulations of his old fencing partner, Clarice Starling, who has recently been hauled up on charges after blowing away five criminals in a drug bust gone wrong. Meanwhile, meat-packing magnate Mason Verger, The Man Without A Face -- because Lecter convinced Mason to cut it off and feed it to his dogs during an autoerotic asphyxiation session prescribed by Lecter as psychiatric treatment for raping his sister -- is the only victim of Lecter's to have survived. Verger is scouring the globe looking for Lecter and plotting his slow demise as the living main course for an army of man-eating pigs.

(I swear to God I am not making this up!)

Harris is just getting started, and there's a whole cast of bizarre characters and situations to keep our interest. After an unforgivably slow start, it's soon moving along and never lets up as it offers some of the most inventive and horrific concepts I've encountered. But despite all that, and despite the fact that I very much enjoyed the book, I found myself dissatisfied.

Harris's long-awaited LAMBS sequel could, I suppose, hardly live up to my high expectations. But Harris's unpolished yet convoluted prose, his frequent meandering between tenses, and his indulgence of directly addressing the reader really work my nerves. This last fault, coupled with the absurd references to Lecter's "memory palace" made me laugh out loud numerous times.

My main dissatisfactions, however, can be boiled down to two: First, Harris obviously milks the public's tendency to worship Hannibal Lecter. In Harris's brilliant novels RED DRAGON and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Lecter was a demonic monster with a mind like Socrates and Machiavelli put together -- a compelling character made up of manichean absolutes of light and dark. In HANNIBAL, the tedious old fuck is James Bond, Stephen Hawking, Camille Paglia, Henry VIII, Robin Hood, Machine Gun Kelly, all of Hogan's Heroes, Pope John Paul II, my college medieval history professor, Miss Manners, Martha Stewart, Julia Child, and William F. Buckley all rolled into one. We find out he's descended from Lithuanian nobility, we find out why he became a cannibal. We find out what kind of wine and pate de foie gras and truffle and harpsichord quill he likes, and we discover that he as a PhD-level knowledge of medieval Italian. Enough is enough. The portrayal is a bunch of classist, hero-worshipping crap, and destroys Lecter's effectiveness as a villain -- no matter how many peoples' livers he eats with fava beans and Chianti. (God forbid he should slum with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.)

Second, Clarice Starling's character is just the opposite of Lecter's -- underdeveloped. While she is a sympathetic character, she's rendered with awkward strokes that make her seem childish and stupid. A highly competent FBI agent, she gets screwed by politics. So what? She's a geek, she's clueless, and that's why she gets screwed. I liked her, but by the end of the book I was even more sick of her and her whiny-ass childhood than I was of Lecter and his "...taste the truffle, Clarice. Can you taste its sublime delectation?"

Starling's underdevelopment becomes part of a laughable climax that I nonetheless found very satisfying in narrative terms. It is completely improbable, and a revolting insult to Harris's characters and to his readers. But oh, it's impressively demented.

Because of this climax and the many harrowing scenes in the book, I must grudgingly admit that HANNIBAL is a must-read, solely because of the new standard it sets in tastelessness while ironically worshipping the good Doctor's impeccable taste. Its grotesque elements are stunning; its narrative curve, with the exception of one lengthy section, is brilliant; its minor characters are wonderfully depicted -- it's a good, if really, really twisted, read. Devour it in one bite like the divine trash it is. -- Thomas S. Roche<

Guest reviewer Thomas S. Roche is a San Francisco writer, journalist and editor.

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