Sumptuous dining in a
By Lauren Hejna-Doan,
CPNet.com New York Bureau
Thomas Harris cooks up an extraordinary
experience laid out in five generous courses with the release of his
newest and most anticipated novel about everyone's most beloved
cannibal, Hannibal Lecter.
Structured in five tasty sections,
"Hannibal" is a deluxe feast for the imagination that may
actually leave the reader as satisfied as if he or she had spent hours
indulging in a five-course meal with the world's most famous chefs and
most divine members of society. It is an extraordinary combination of
psychological examination blended with intricate plots that are rich
with delectable settings and peppered with superbly crafted allusion,
symbolism and imagery.
The characters are, for the most part
familiar. Special Agent Clarice Starling returns along with her mentor
Agent John Brigham. Also joining the cast are Barney Hersh, the guard at
the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where Dr. Lecter
was held after his incarceration seven years earlier. General Inspector
Paul Krendler visits as well. And of course, there is the insatiable
serial murderer Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter, whose claim to
fame is eating the organs of the tragically rude.
One gets the distinct sense that Agent
Starling and Dr. Lecter do well to be classified as matriarch and
patriarch of this novel. Neither has an arsenal of allies, but each
controls the fate of many -- with the general difference being that
Clarice Starling is the saint to Lecter's devil. But as different as
they are morally, there is strong sense that the agent and her serial
murderer are more closely related in spirit than would normally be
But this is not a normal world. Among
the criteria for Lecter's victims is the distinct inability to show any
sense of good taste. And as this novel's predecessor "Silence of
the Lambs" made very clear, whether in the liver of his victim or
in the very wine he chooses to accompany his dishes, taste is everything
Verger Mason, a surviving victim of
Lecter's, is a prime example. Mason's fun includes torturing
less-fortunate children and fantasizing about his early days stabbing
pigs with his father. His deformed spirit and body leave the reader
teeming with disgust. He is so contemptible that one has no trouble
wishing Lecter to get rid of him for good this time.
This sort of reader catharsis follows
suit, in due time, throughout Harris' novel. But to imply
"Hannibal" is merely a vividly rich hack-'em-up novel would
be, alas, tasteless. Rather, the core of the story is Lecter's heart.
Horrors that have plagued him since childhood are revealed, and a deep
compassion and understanding is established with the reader and also
with Special Agent Clarice Starling.
The relationship that results between
Lector and Starling is a lock and key sort of fit. There is a genuine
need for each other that almost seems preternatural. They could be two
parts of the same soul -- one destined for murder, the other for justice
The conclusion to this novel and to
their relationship is stirring and magnificent enough to keep a secret
until the very end.
If there is a moral lesson in Hannibal,
it is to be ware of our acts of self-indulgence and vanity. We may
offend the wrong person by spewing crass words. We may stray from our
values, the way Officer Rinaldo Pazzi does when he chooses to insult the
incognito Dr. Lecter in Italy by selling him for a bounty instead of
staying true to his first love -- justice.
If there is enjoyment in the pages of
"Hannibal" it is lies in the oddly logical brand of justice in
Dr. Hannibal Lecter's world. But mostly, it lies in the crafting of the
lives that mesh and are pulled apart in such a way that the novel begins
to read like a well-defined Sonata. Words dance with colors and emotion
to the extent that the reader is able to taste contempt and to smell
Thomas Harris has brilliantly given the
life of luxury to his readers with this one. It is a full meal prepared
with the richest ingredients and the most enriching accents. Savor the
heart, and let all the flavors roll into the senses. You may feel a
little naughty reading Hannibal, true, but it is advised that you
indulge. It is enrichment at play-a concept of which that Dr. Lecter
would most eagerly approve.