Thomas Harris cannibalizes the English language … and guess what else?
Hannibal Rising: A Novel. By Thomas Harris. Delacorte, 323 pp., $27.95.
By Janice Harayda
Nobody sold out his fans more ruthlessly in 2006 than Thomas Harris, author of The Silence of the Lambs and other books about the cannibalistic sociopath Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal’s depravity has always defied explanation. And his creator’s attempt to rationalize the savagery in this novel shows unmatched obtuseness even in a year full of news reports about O.J. Simpson’s cancelled If I Did It. Harris tries to account for Hannibal’s actions by describing his war-ravaged childhood in Lithuania. It’s like trying to explain why King Kong carried a terrified woman to the top of the Empire State Building by telling you what happened to the ape when he was a baby gorilla.
Hannibal Rising asks you to find entertainment in this premise: Not only did the Nazis have gas chambers, they created Hannibal by eating his baby sister when food ran low. The novel appropriates the horrors of the Third Reich in a much more offensive way than did the comedy The Producers in its film and stage versions. The Producers acknowledged that nothing could be worse than making light of Hitler’s atrocities. Harris never does this but tells his story straight up and in the pretentious literary style of a creative writing student who is about to get handed a “Drop” card by the professor. He saddles his novel with tedious italicized flashbacks, self-conscious present-tense narration, and cannibalized verb-less sentences. The dialogue is ludicrously stilted. An uncle tells Hannibal, “Our family, we are somewhat unusual people, Hannibal.” So that explains why Hannibal cut off the face of a captor and used it to escape in The Silence of the Lambs!
When it isn’t trivializing the Nazis, Hannibal Rising exploits the stereotype of the subservience of Japanese women and panders to male sexual fantasies of it. Hannibal finds a protector in Lady Murasaki, a namesake of the author of The Tale of Genji, who takes long, gardenia-scented baths. Lady Murasaki stands by Hannibal even after he has decapitated his first victim. An implicit message: Other female companions would run from this man as fast as they could, but a Japanese woman might be dumb enough to stick around. After all of this, you wonder what Harris will ask us to accept next: Maybe a porn film full of women women flock to Hannibal because they find cannibalism a turn-on?
Best line: None.
Worst Line: Let’s skip the mangled French, the pop psychology, and the scene in which Hannibal eats a shish kabob made from the flesh of a victim. Let’s look instead at the florid and ungrammatical overwriting, such as: “Hannibal walked Lady Murasaki to her very chamber door …. ” And: “The moonlight diffused by the wavy, bubbled window glass creeps across Hannibal’s face and inches silent up the wall.”
Published: December 2006
Furthermore: Hannibal Rising was named one of the five worst books of 2006 by Entertainment Weekly www.ew.com in the special year-end double issue dated Dec. 25/Jan. 5, 2006.
(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.