Thursday, December 14, 2006

Anthony Lane on "Hannibal Rising"

Anthony Lane's book and film reviews are often more entertaining than the works he analyzes. I haven't yet read the new Thomas Harris novel chronicling the early life of Hannibal Lecter, so I cannot say if the review is better than the book. But the review is pretty entertaining. It opens:

The new Thomas Harris novel goes by the title of “Hannibal Rising” (Delacorte; $27.95). This has the effect of making Dr. Hannibal Lecter sound like a soufflé, a fever chart, or a storm—all comparisons that the good doctor, who prides himself as an epicure and a force of nature, would be bound to welcome. This is his fourth outing in print. He made his blushing début in “Red Dragon” (1981), then returned to the fray in “The Silence of the Lambs” (1988) and “Hannibal” (1999). As the dates testify, there has been a decorous interval between appearances, as if Lecter, like any other star who understands the value of rarity, were keen to insure that his public should be neither glutted nor bored. Naturally, he himself never suffers from boredom, floating far above such vulgar impedimenta as ennui, and free to disport himself within his “memory palace.” This spacious and well-appointed dwelling is located, according to the opening sentence of “Hannibal Rising,” “in the darkness at the center of his mind.” Typical Lecter. The rest of us have to make do with a memory shed, or a mildewed memory cupboard filled with memory junk. He gets a palace.

Our hero began life, we learn from the new book, in prewar Lithuania. He lived in Lecter Castle, which has been the family seat of the Lecters since the time of Hannibal the Grim (1365-1428). That is a pleasantly morbid joke with which to start the book, but anybody who hopes that it will herald a feast of mirth from Thomas the Funny will turn the final page without a smile. We are on serious ground here, and one of the tasks of the novel is to see it hallowed, defiled, and then reconsecrated. There are images of a childhood Eden, in which Hannibal plays with his little sister, Mischa, but these are erased by the arrival of German troops, aided by a gang of collaborative local thugs. For three and a half years, the family—headed by Count Lecter, Hannibal’s father—survives in a hunting lodge in the woods, but at last the thugs catch up with them. Everybody dies except Hannibal, although we are led to believe that something in his soul, too, has perished, as a result of seeing Mischa killed and eaten. It remains possible, though unconfirmed, that he unwittingly drank hot soup made from her bones.

Click here to read the rest of Lane's review.

For a different take, Ali Karim offers a mini-review of Hannibal Rising over at The Rap Sheet.

--Marshal Zeringue