Onyx reviews: Hannibal by Thomas
It has taken Thomas Harris eleven years to produce his fourth novel, Hannibal,
the third to feature Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter, a character
immortalized by Anthony Hopkins' brilliant portrayal in "Silence of the
Lambs." Readers have waited for this sequel as eagerly—and for just
about as long—as movie-goers have awaited The Phantom Menace.
Mason Verger was one of the few Lecter victims who survived his encounter.
Horribly disfigured and confined to bed, Verger has spent the seven years since
Lecter's escape using his vast fortune and influence to track Lecter down. His
life is about revenge. His money has bought him contacts inside the FBI,
guaranteeing that he gets information even before agents on the case. He has a
very strange fate planned for his former tormentor.
The intervening years have not been kind to Agent Clarice Starling. Her
encounter with Hannibal Lecter was the high point of her young career, and her
high-profile success created some highly placed enemies within the bureau. They
have seen to it that everything that she has tried to accomplish since then has
been tinged with enough poison to keep her from advancing within the FBI. As the
novel opens, a risky stakeout goes bad and her bureau rivals see her as the
perfect scapegoat. Lecter learns of her public humiliation and his letter of
encouragement, in his inimitable, backhanded style, is brought to Verger's
attention. The demented mogul uses his power on Starling's behalf, motivated by
a need to preserve her link with Lecter.
Lecter comes on-stage gradually, but when he does, it is clear that he has
not reformed his habits over the years. Scene after scene of brutality assault
the reader as Lecter slips out from traps which ultimately lead him back to the
U.S. Instead of allowing Lecter to remain an enigma, Harris has decided to give
the evil doctor a past which is supposed to help explain how the monster was
created. Lecter's past draws him irresistibly and inevitably to Starling.
Hannibal was rushed into press in a few short months after Harris
delivered the novel to his publisher. His contract reportedly precluded the
publisher from changing a single word in his manuscript. In a better writer,
this might be acceptable, but Harris is nobody's Hemingway. There are numerous
passages which are awkward, ungrammatical, jarring, amateurish. Some description
uses the short-hand notation of screenplay directions rather than prose.
Expository sections often switch into present tense or second person. Sentences
run on for three or more lines without benefit of a predicate. The roughness is
especially noticeable in the early chapters, when the action is slowly building.
Once the story kicks into high gear, the reader may be sufficiently caught up in
the action to overlook all but the most blatant lapses of prose and style.
The climactic confrontation between Lecter, Starling and Verger's team is
dramatic, intense and gritty. What follows in the denouement, however, is
completely unexpected. How it will play with readers remains to be seen. In a
tale about a man with a taste for fine wine, expensive cars and the occasional
liver or thymus gland of his fellow man, it is hard to say what is over the top.
From a character-motivation point of view, it is a huge stretch.
Even if the ride is a little bit bumpy, the trip is probably worth the price
of admission. Still, Hannibal Lecter will probably not be the only one left with
a strange taste in his mouth by the last page.
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