I just finished rereading The Silence of the Lambs, one of my all-time favorites, and wrote a few things–not a review exactly–that I guess I’ll go ahead and post here.
After two or three years, without a memory like Hannibal’s, I had forgotten some of the details and nuances that make Silence of the Lambs such a masterpiece.
The story itself would make an above-average thriller, and that’s to be expected coming as it does from a man who spent years as a crime reporter. Even if you’ve read it (or seen the film) a hundred times, there’s still nothing quite like the tension you feel as you read about Clarice Starling’s persistence as she pieces clues together in Belvedere, Ohio and ultimately walks into the killer’s lair while her FBI elders are wasting time in Chicago.
But Thomas Harris’ real gift lies in his characters. There are a plethora of characters in this slim volume, and nary a one leaves readers unmoved.
Not Jack Crawford, the hard-ass section chief in charge of Behavioral Science—a man worn thin by both his struggles and his successes; a man willing to send an untried trainee into the lion’s den but who at least stands by her to the last.
Not Clarice herself, the tough, no-nonsense heroine who bares herself to one monster in hopes of stopping another.
Not even Frederick Chilton, the know-nothing “doctor” whose foolishness and pride make him almost as much of an antagonist as Buffalo Bill himself.
Then there is, of course, Hannibal Lecter, now infamous thanks to the brilliant Anthony Hopkins. Few characters with so little space devoted to them in the text have such an enormous impact on the novel as a whole; fewer still leave such a lasting impression on the reader. Yet that is the power of Dr. Lecter. He is at once charming, refined, intelligent, and unfailingly polite, but also ruthless, contemptuous, and terrifying. Though Clarice is undoubtedly the novel’s star and more than holds her own—indeed, she captures the attention and admiration of the otherwise unflappable Lecter—the unsettling but strangely appealing presence of Dr. Lecter pushes Silence of the Lambs from good to excellent.
It is excellent as a stand-alone novel and excellent as a duology (a trilogy, really, but Red Dragon is something of a different animal). Many people were disappointed (angered, even) by its sequel, Hannibal but to the careful reader, Harris here sews the seeds that sprout and bloom in that equally magnificent work. With Hannibal Harris, as Dr. Lecter tells Clarice, “finish[es] the arch.”
But this is a reflection on Silence, not its sequel, and as I said, it is a masterful novel on its own. Not a single character, however small, feels one-dimensional or rings false. Perhaps that is the most frightening part—Harris writes his characters in such a way that you feel certain you could meet any of them on the street…even the ones you’d rather not.
(ETA: Reading it for a second time has only strengthened my conviction that Hannibal and Clarice were falling for each other—by degrees, of course, and one more quickly than the other—from the first time they met. Harris’ hints are subtle, but very much there.)