Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris
|Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris|
|Reviewer: Kerry King|
|Summary: Is this the final chapter in the tale? A question only Thomas Harris can answer, but I hope not. Hannibal Rising is the first episode of the story of Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter, the terrifying doctor from the Silence of The Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragon novels and it is gripping, nerve-jangling and masterful in equal measure.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 384||Date: May 2007|
|Publisher: Dell Publishing Company|
Without leaning on a heavy bias, I will tell you right off the bat that I am a Thomas Harris fan and have read all of his novels. He has the same erudite skill at setting a thrilling and horrifying but captivating scene, as Stephen King. The fact that both of their respective works translate so easily to the big screen, for my money, tells of their superlative writing talent. It is much harder to write a screenplay, I am told, than to draft a novel.
Hannibal Rising is set, as we begin the tale, half-way through the Second World War. The aristocratic Lecter family and a few close hand servants are hiding from the marauding Waffen SS, in a small hunting lodge in the woods on the land that surrounds Lecter Castle. A little over three years pass before the Eastern Front collapses, the Russian Army rolling like lava across Eastern Europe, leaving behind a landscape of smoke and ashes, peopled by the starving and the dead. Winter has descended and food in any manifestation is in desperately short supply. Looting, pillaging and scavenging are the order of the day.
In freakishly unfortunate circumstances as the war draws to its conclusion, Hannibal and his baby sister Mischa suddenly find themselves alone. Cold and frightened, Hannibal cares for Mischa, ensuring she has the lion's share of their meagre supply of food, to the detriment of himself. It is days rather than weeks before a band of half-starved army renegades and deserters find their way to the hunting lodge. These are desperate men; Hannibal justly fears for his and Mischa's lives.
The darkness lifts and Hannibal is wandering alone, through the forest. He is picked up by a Russian tank patrol and taken to an orphanage. He is mute and scarred, but something has shifted within him and in spite of his youth, a great malevolence is dawning.
This is not a long book, by any stretch of the imagination. Certainly, it is shorter by far than most of Harris's previous novels in the series. Its brevity, however, is where the author's skill truly lies. He tells Hannibal Lecter's early life story so deftly that to expound upon what is there would spoil the broth. Where I would not usually allow myself to watch a filmic rendition of a novel before I have read the book (the book is always better), I did this time, as I felt that as with those Stephen King stories that are translated to the big screen, there would be nothing lost or gained.
In fact, I got the distinct impression Thomas Harris was more able to describe the young Hannibal as the familiar character he becomes, in some part due to the films made of his earlier books. The teenage Master Lecter is perhaps more menacing than the man he becomes because a reader's expectation of innocence is far greater given Lecter's age.
Harris cleverly picks out some of the more subtle nuances and graceful, physical movements that were so expertly played by the older Lecter, transplanting them into the younger man with such effectiveness that you are sped through time to identify them with the Lecter you already know. My personal view here is that Anthony Hopkins, who played the part of Hannibal Lecter in all of the adaptations except Hannibal Rising, understood what Harris was saying right down to the punctuation marks and translated them with unnerving aplomb. To see this almost in reverse was unsettling and bone-chilling; a book that can cause you to emote on the spot deserves your attention.
Naturally, this genre is not for everyone. As you might expect, there are some truly gruesome moments although nothing that is written for the sake of gore and undoubtedly each of these moments is fundamental to the plot and to the invention of Lecter's character and the terrifying monster that he will eventually become.
I'm not prone to writing lengthy, verbose reviews, with the exception it would seem, of this one. I usually want to get to the point as painlessly as possible so I will try and summarise for you now. What I want to say is this: Hannibal Rising is not an obviously noteworthy book. It is not Ian McEwan's Amsterdam but this does not mean it is any less well-written, engaging, thought-provoking or evocative than anything any prize-winner has written. It's just aimed at a different audience.
I recommend this novel highly. It's a particularly engrossing read if you took pleasure in the previous books (or films for that matter) and where so many other prequels have fallen down; this one rises to the top.
You may also enjoy Dean Koontz's Brother Odd but more likely one of the less supernatural of Stephen King's novels, such as Misery, famously brought to life by James Caan and an Oscar-winning performance by Kathy Bates, or perhaps you could try The Green Mile which sits high on my list of all-time favourite books. You may recall The Green Mile was played by a superb cast which included Tom Hanks and Oscar nominations for among others, best film and supporting actor for Michael Clarke Duncan. For more about the Waffen SS, you might like to have a look at Voices of the Flemish Waffen-SS: The Final Testament of the Oostfronters by Jonathan Trigg.
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