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Harris Rises; The Wound Man waits in the wings,
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This review is from: Hannibal Rising (Hardcover)
I don't think I've ever seen a book bagged as savagely on Amazon as this - so much so that, despite having pre-ordered and received my copy, I almost didn't bother to read it.
what a pleasant surprise, then to find a beautifully crafted, clever, literary novel, developing ever further one of the most complex characters of modern fiction, packed full of the same metaphor and figure as was Hannibal - a further stage in Thomas Harris' development from author of intelligent thrillers to a proper, literary, writer. Unlike most people, I liked Hannibal, but thought it was a bit baroque for its own good. With Hannibal Rising, Thomas Harris has kept the melody, but cut the ornamentation down to a plainsong.
The character Hannibal Lecter's progress from his walk-on part in Red Dragon is intriguing: Thomas Harris can scarcely have expected, let alone intended, that a character seemingly named for the sake of a cheesy rhyme would, er, consume thirty years of his professional life. In Red Dragon Hannibal Lecter was mostly a bogeyman (at that point he displayed the classic psychopathic trait of childhood cruelty to animals - which has long since been revised into an uncommon affinity for assorted birds and horses): only in the novel Hannibal did Harris really begin to extend a figure who transpired to be more supernatural than human (there are unmistakable resonances of Dracula) and not really immoral at all. Perhaps this is Harris' most shocking initiative of all: A heartless psychopath, via a preference for eating only the rude, is now given a full moral basis and, what's more, we're on his side as he wields the knife. That's a pretty subversive shift in perspective, and Harris has executed it without us even realising what he was up to. Yet people still complain.
The heart quickens briefly in the suspense, but mostly that's not what Harris is interested in, and nor can he really go to town since, by definition, we know what the outcome will be: Hannibal must survive, and given his superhuman faculties it is difficult to believe he is in any real danger throughout.
What Thomas Harris is more interested in is the figurative devices through which he explores his doppelganger and by which he binds him to the existing canon. For those who bemoaned the lack of the writer's craft in this book I can only suggest you read it again, for barely a word is wasted, and Harris' writing is as deft and lyrical here as ever I've read it. There are no accidents, and it is not one that evil is personified by the "totenkopf" (or "death's head") insignia, nor that unspeakable slaughter of innocents once again takes place in a barn, just as it did in Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal (now we have a full circle: by rescuing Catherine, Starling has stopped her lambs screaming, and by avenging Mischa, Hannibal has stopped his). Every sentence is stuffed with allusions to the senses, and particularly smells, and sparks (such as those in Hannibal's maroon eyes) are a constant presence.
The best news is that - albeit another decade away, there is clearly more to come: Will Graham has been the most interesting and complicated of Lecter's antagonists, and it can be no accident that Harris has saved the most fascinating period of both of their lives - between Lecter's arrival in Baltimore and his only proper apprehension by Graham - for last. We have yet to find out what happened to Benjamin Raspail and Mason Verger, and Harris has positioned himself nicely to finish the cycle with the police procedural which most of his fans, judging by this site, seem to crave above all else.