So I got “Hannibal Rising” out of the library Saturday, expecting it to be a fine, sucky read in the model of “Hannibal.” (If you don’t understand how something can be fine and sucky, get outta here. It’s the same impulse that makes me want to call my friend Ron whenever the commercial for “Freedom Writers” airs, and say, we are so there.)
Twelve hours later, I closed the book, having read it more or less straight through. I didn’t stay up until 3, because nothing can keep me up until 3 anymore, at least not when I have the option of going to bed at 11. It didn’t suck. Too much. I was astonished.
In this opinion, I noted that I have very little company. The Amazon reviewers are savaging it, as are most professionals; Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times is fairly kind. But I don’t care who knows it: I kinda liked it.
“Hannibal” was such a shock to the system, taking the imprisoned monster of “Silence of the Lambs” and turning him loose in the world, where he promptly reveals himself as, well, a big ol’ fairy. People always speak of the ending, where he makes Clarice Starling his love slave and they live happily ever after in Buenos Aires. They say, “That was so out of character for her, I felt robbed.” Out of character for her? What about him? He’s arranging flowers and fussing over his table settings like Mr. Gay from Gaytown, population you!
Doubt me? Ahem:
Early in the morning the doctor laid his table carefully for three, studying it from different angles with the tip of his finger beside his nose, changed candlesticks twice and went from his damask place mats to a gathered tablecloth to reduce to more manageable size the oval dining table.
I could have bought this guy as merely a serious table-setter, but the changing-candlesticks-twice part was, how you say, the tell. Not to mention the finger beside his nose.
The rest of the book was larded with ridiculous details, all of which were rich fodder for Martin Amis’ takedown of the book in Talk magazine when it came out. I can’t find a copy online, but trust me when I say that after reading it, I thought Harris wouldn’t dare write about Hannibal again. A character is described as having “a rank smell, like sausage from an animal improperly gelded.” (You know, that smell.) There’s a lot of foofraw about the proper reduction of a stock, the outfitting of a picnic basket from Hammacher Schlemmer, and most absurd of all, the really creepy villain who makes martinis from the tears of weeping poor children. How would you order that in a bar?
A lot of that stuff is in “Hannibal Rising,” but either I’m more used to it or it just isn’t dwelt on so much, and doesn’t get in the way. There’s some flower-arranging, but it’s Japanese, hence not quite so twee. The plot I’m not so crazy about — it’s Hannibal’s origin story, and progresses in such a cinematic fashion that you immediately say, “Why, it’s almost as if this book was written simultaneously with the screenplay,” and then you realize, yes, yes it was. Seriously, the climax is so end-of-the-second-act you can practically hear the director shouting, “cut!” There’s even a big explosion, from which some actor will no doubt be harmlessly flung, arms and legs windmilling.
Maybe I didn’t like this book as much as I thought.
Or it might be that it simply benefited from low expectations. Whatever. I enjoyed the trip through eastern Europe it took me on, before we relocated to France and Hannibal’s training in flower arranging begins anew. Maybe what I liked best is, it showed me people like me, and like most readers, who actually like this character. I always thought it was amusing that Harris gave Lecter all the great lines, the most withering put-downs, the best taste, the highest IQ, and then turns around every third page and reminds us that he’s a MONSTAH, dammit, which makes you feel bad for ever wanting to have dinner with him (at a restaurant). Because this was pre-monstrous Hannibal, you don’t feel so guilty about it.
I see from the casting that “Hannibal Rising,” the released-in-February (kiss of death) movie, will feature two of my favorite HBO series actors — Kevin McKidd (Lucius Vorenus in “Rome”) and Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty in “The Wire”), the former as a bad guy, the latter as a French police inspector. It’s going to be accent-a-palooza, I can just see it now. Maybe I should call Ron. I think we have a bad-movie date coming.