HANNIBAL RISING Book Review
Written by Thomas Harris.
Hannibal Lecter, as a character, would seem to have been exhausted over the course of Thomas Harris' three preceding novels. Moreover, with an off-putting conclusion to Hannibal in 1999, it was widely assumed that, should Harris choose to pick up the Lecter trail again, any such new tale should bring closure to that figurative betrayal of one Clarice Starling.
The indignation is all fine and good, but Harris' fourth book in the cycle, the prequel Hannibal Rising, cannot be tasked with such trivial matters. Its purpose is to fill in the blank spaces suggested by the sketchwork details of Hannibal Lecter's childhood tribulation during the closing years of World War II (as the Hannibal novel prefaced), which are later augmented by his teen years in Paris. In other words, those hoping to tuck into a gesier salad of forensic evidence and FBI protocol will likely pine for the earlier novels Red Dragon (1981) and The Silence Of The Lambs (1988), where those Lecter-tuned elements were the mainstay.
This time, we find Hannibal Lecter as a child of royal descent in pre-war Lithuania. His family lives in a rural castle, and once the war reaches their doorstep, Hannibal finds himself orphaned and held captive with his very young sister Mischa in the nearby family hunting lodge by ruthless war agents. As the tide of war turns, rations are cut off, and hunger sets in. An unspeakable occurrence traumatizes young Hannibal, reducing him to catatonia. Later, once the war has ended, he is identified in an orphanage by his uncle Robert Lecter and comes to live with his newfound family in Paris. There he meets his uncle's elegant Japanese wife, Lady Murasaki, who helps edge Hannibal out of his catatonic state.
The grudge of misdeeds is always in the back of Hannibal's dreams, however, and when the object of his newfound veneration is sullied (a surly butcher hurls a vile racist insult at Lady Murasaki), the boy's murderous undercurrent first surfaces. And after the passing of his uncle Robert, Hannibal finds himself ensconced in medical school, his young age not hindering his learning ability in the slightest. It's not only medicine, but also language and culture that the lad picks up on quite naturally. In the background, a Paris inspector named Popil has been eyeing the boy, keenly savvy to the case of Hannibal Lecter and suspicioning what monstrosity the boy might be capable of committing.
A few short years later, the need to avenge his sister Mischa begins to envelope Hannibal. From information he has gleaned from Popil (who also hunts war criminals in his spare time, and for reasons of his own), the network of barbarians who killed Mischa may still be alive and living lives of affluence and comfort. As Hannibal becomes determined to personally pursue and eliminate these cretins across Europe, rather than satisfy his own demons, he only increases their power over him. And when he closes in on the ringleader Grutas, he receives an unbearable revelation.
Veneration has often been a theme throughout the Lecter tales. The veneration of Clarice Starling for her father was a key to both The Silence Of The Lambs and Hannibal, and they were a key to Lecter's ultimate manipulation of her. Here, Lady Murasaki is a figure of veneration for Hannibal Lecter. She is the honey in the lion, the salvation he seeks. The resolution only leaves Hannibal on his own, a brilliant Renaissance man without a soul, on the road to temporary greatness in the United States. He even speaks the language at this point.
It's been twenty-five years since Hannibal Lecter first spoke a word, at least where literary continuity is concerned. Harris was correct to concern his new novel with Hannibal's beginnings, rather than keep on with the good doctor and Clarice dancing on terraces....though a follow-up to that must eventually come. Hannibal Rising is a brisk read, coming in at mere 323 pages. Every damned one of them is mesmerizingly engaging. And Thomas Harris has once again crafted a masterful novel.
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Review by Petch Lucas, for Pitofhorror.com