February 16, 2001

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?

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“Now that ceaseless exposure has calloused us to the lewd and the vulgar, it is instructive to see what still seems wicked to us. What still slaps the clammy flab of our submissive consciousness hard enough to get our attention?”

In two lines at the beginning of Chapter 20 in Hannibal, Thomas Harris describes the effect of his story on any who plunge into his novel. Shocking, vulgar, and abrasively disgusting at times, Hannibal whips us along on a thrilling ride from start to finish that definitely gets our attention.

From the very first page, Hannibal sucks you into the suspense of a world where a famous cannibalistic monster is out on the loose, a world where one man’s single-minded and depraved need for revenge can drive an entire governmental investigation, and a world where one woman tries to uphold the law that she can no longer trust.

Hannibal is not, as the title leads us to believe, a biography of Dr. Hannibal Lecter himself. Harris does lead us deeper than ever before into the impossibly chaotic and frighteningly brilliant arena of Lecter’s psyche, and we are finally able to see why the good doctor has managed to develop his own obvious disorders, but the main theme of Hannibal centers more around the effects of Dr. Lecter on other characters.

Harris masterfully weaves the tale through the grotesquely violent aftermath of the bombs that drop when the subordinate characters encounter Dr. Lecter. The most gripping interactions occur between Lecter and Clarice Starling and Lecter and Mason Verger, an ex-patient of Lecter’s.

These interactions allow the reader to join the plot of the novel in an intricately dizzying dance of suspense. In the beginning of the story, Hannibal Lecter is free to roam the world as he pleases, Clarice Starling’s job security with the FBI is in serious jeopardy, and Mason Verger, kept alive by a multitude of machines, is compulsively searching the globe for Lecter, who convinced Verger to horribly disfigure himself many years ago.

The death waltz begins when Lecter contacts Starling after years of silence, taunting her and yet obviously upset by her recent fall from grace, proving that Lecter is alive, free, and able to be caught. The dance continues as both Mason Verger and the FBI machine gleefully roll toward their most famous quarry until the plot hits an unbelievable conclusion that spins the reader away, stunned and blinking in amazement.

Harris’ third and last tale of Hannibal the Cannibal is not for the faint of heart or stomach, however. Every scene is described in graphic detail, in a simple yet blunt writing style that smacks the reader to attention. Shockingly disgusting at times, Harris’ words pounce on the reader and drag them with such force into every scene that the reader cannot help but feel as though they are standing next to each character as the action happens, not merely observing, but actively participating in each event.

To term this novel “a page turner” would be an understatement. The plot, especially the last one hundred and fifty pages, snatches away the reader’s own reality and deposits him or her into the reality of a psychopath being chased by another psychopath, the government, and the governmental agent he finds “interesting.”

Here’s the verdict: the book is amazing. The story takes you on such a psychologically twisted and suspenseful roller coaster ride that you can’t put the book down to do such important and necessary things as your homework or the dishes. It’s also important to note that although the book is the conclusion to a trilogy, it can be read with no more than a basic knowledge of who Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling are, i.e. he’s a psycho with biting problems and she’s a hard-ass FBI agent.

One word of caution, though, the goriest scenes really are quite gory: there’s no lack of spurting blood, spattered blood, or bloody people in this book, something that many people might not whole-heartedly enjoy. Despite the bloodshed, the novel is fantastic, and is recommended to anyone in need of a good psychological scare.

Archived article by Katie Porch