Book Review: Hannibal Rising

Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Here’s the thing. Lemme tell you the thing.

As a generic action/thriller, it was fine. It served its purpose. The bad guys are Nazi looters, the protagonist is a traumatized war orphan who lost his aristocratic family’s vast estate and became a self-made doctor after a youth punctuated by radical violence characterized by “standing up to bullies” by stabbing them sometimes. Essentially the plot of Harry Potter, but it’s tried and true, and it serves its purpose adequately.

It has nothing to do with Hannibal Lecter.

The orphan protagonist is painted as righteous and heroic through the entire novel, which is not something you can do for the AFI’s number one villain of all time. He is a sadist who eats people to show his contempt for them. Even if you can relate, you’re not relating on a heroic framework.

Even more jarring was how the secondary characters kept making reference to how Hannibal is now “a monster” and how “nothing like him has ever happened before”. Why, because he decapitated a war criminal butcher who degraded his Oedipal geisha aunt? Because he avenged his dead family? Or because he’s good at math?

The character in Hannibal Rising didn’t do anything particularly out of the ordinary, certainly nothing to validate the doomsaying of all these layman personality diviners. He killed people who desperately needed killing, and barely ate any of them. He was an adept liar and left no evidence. That’s not a one-of-a-kind indefinable murder god, that’s a juvenile delinquent with an IQ better than 100.

But, Harris was backed into a corner on this. He didn’t want to write it. He knew he no longer had the chops to write it. But the studio said, “either you write his backstory, or someone else will”, and Harris didn’t want to see his best character burned down by someone else. Instead, he became his very own arsonist.

The worst Hannibal book. Pretend it’s not about Hannibal, and it’s a decent read.

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