Thomas Harris,
The Silence of the Lambs
(St. Martin's Press, 1988)

Thomas Harris,
(Delacorte Press, 1999)

Although there are four books in Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lecter series, The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal share a stronger connection with each other than with the franchise's other titles for two reasons: (1) their respective theatrical adaptations made way more money at the box office, and (2) the strange Hannibal/Clarice Starling relationship is highlighted only in these two texts, and not in either that bookend them.

Because of this, I felt it appropriate to pen a dual review of both books, instead of separating my thoughts into two distinct write-ups.

With that being said, there's one nagging question that should be answered here at the top. Which book is better? Let me put it this way. Had I decided to read Hannibal before The Silence of the Lambs, I wouldn't have made it to The Silence of the Lambs.

Hannibal is Hollywood. It's generic. It lacks the simplicity and artistry of its predecessor. In its place? Excessive gore and violence. Nonsense. You know, the gunk that sequels seemingly thrive in. You can also bet Hannibal was principally written for Harris to cash in on his uber-popular literary character. There's no question.

However, I would like to add that there's a good chunk of story here that Silence of the Lambs fans can (and will) appreciate. Case in point: Harris does a commendable job of tying the two stories together. He achieves this not only by bringing back many of the same characters from Silence of the Lambs (and not just "for the sake of bringing them back," mind you), but also by reprising similar scenes and situations.

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the whole book is when Clarice returns to Baltimore State Hospital to dig up some dirt on Hannibal by looking through old files. We learn the space, where she first encountered the serial killer many years ago, has since been shutdown. Even so, its decayed state fails to prevent Clarice's mind from drifting to where it all began. With Hannibal. With Barney. With Miggs firing semen at her face. It all rushes back. And it works.

Passages like that one really saved the novel for me, and made me appreciate it more than if like connections had been left out.

As you have probably surmised, I thoroughly enjoyed Silence of the Lambs. It's a fantastic psychological thriller about an up-and-coming sharpshooter who relies on the expertise of a madman to crack another psychotic killer's code. It's gritty. It's real. And it certainly doesn't work as hard as Hannibal to lure in your attention and maintain its grip to the very end.

In addition, most everything in Silence of the Lambs is necessary. It serves a purpose. Whereas in Hannibal, there's significant pieces of story that are utterly irrelevant. The book is needlessly long. So what, we can see what it'd be like having Hannibal curate an Italian museum? What gives?

review by
Eric Hughes

25 April 2009

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