Years after his escape, posing as scholarly Dr. Fell, curator of a grand family’s palazzo, Hannibal lives the good life in Florence, playing lovely tunes by serial killer/composer Henry VIII and killing hardly anyone himself. Clarice is unluckier: in the novel’s action-film-like opening scene, she survives an FBI shootout gone wrong, and her nemesis, Paul Krendler, makes her the fall guy. Clarice is suspended, so, unfortunately, the first cop who stumbles on Hannibal is an Italian named Pazzi, who takes after his ancestors, greedy betrayers depicted in Dante’s Inferno. Pazzi is on the take from a character as scary as Hannibal: Mason Verger. When Verger was a young man busted for raping children, his vast wealth saved him from jail. All he needed was psychotherapy–with Dr. Lecter. Thanks to the treatment, Verger is now on a respirator, paralyzed except for one crablike hand, watching his enormous, brutal moray eel swim figure eights and devour fish. His obsession is to feed Lecter to some other brutal pets.
I had read The Silence of the Lambs a long time ago, and hence after Red Dragon skipped to the third book, Hannibal. After a very slow & boring Red Dragon this book was a treat.
What I liked:
- Hannibal Lecter: Yes he is a cannibal, but not just that. He is smart, intelligent, well read, manipulative, charming & definitely not lacking in courage. And inspite of all this, this man has some serious issues, issues which we discover stem from his past. It makes us wonder that would he have become what he did, if Mischa was still alive? Living with his family, would he still have turned into a monster? He would have always been the odd one out I guess, a loner too, but definitely no monster. I was very happy that the book went deeper into Hannibal’s past & we got a few chapters from his POV.
- Clarice Starling: She is a beautifully written character. An FBI agent who attained fame & success very early in her career & someone with a very idealistic approach towards life, she feels this constant need to do the right thing, the right way & please father figures like Jack Crawford by exceeding their expectations. She too is heavily haunted by her past.
- The Ending: When I finished the book I groaned in disgust. How could Clarice & Hannibal end up together, that too with Clarice living with him willingly? That would be impossible. I hated the ending & thought the author was just trying to please the shippers, if they existed. But then after thinking for a few days I went over the various other ways in which the novel could have ended. Hannibal kills Clarice (no, because there is no reason, he likes & respects her, she saved him), Clarice kills Hannibal (Hannibal dying or being killed by anyone would have been the most meh thing the author could have written. I am glad he didn’t go down that path. Monsters don’t die that easy), Hannibal keeps her with him in a permanently drugged state (I think he drugged her so she would open up to him completely about her past & her feelings. Hannibal enjoyed talking to Clarice & found her intelligent enough to discuss things with her & help her in her investigations. She had passed all the tests set by him & gained his approval. I doubt Hannibal would have been willing to lose all this for anything). As to why Clarice would stay with him willingly, I think Clarice doesn’t see him only as a monster. She respects his intelligence. Also, losing Jack Crawford & being disappointed in the FBI must have made her feel really lonely. Maybe that is why she chose to be with this man who was a part of her past, whom she knew & whom she could talk to. I guess any ending involving Hannibal would have left someone or the other feeling dissatisfied. Maybe that is why Thomas Harris decided to give the Doctor his happy ending, conventional opinions be damned 😛
What I didn’t like:
- Jack Crawford: He was one of my favourites in The Silence of the Lambs. But he becomes really boring here. Close to retirement, missing Bella terribly this man is no longer the man he was. With almost zero influence left at the FBI he is unable to defend Clarice when she needs it most. Also, in retrospect it seems a little selfish on Crawford’s part to send Clarice to Hannibal Lecter & then leave her unprotected against the consequences & the doctor.
Some great quotes from the book:
“I think it’s easy to mistake understanding for empathy – we want empathy so badly. Maybe learning to make that distinction is part of growing up. It’s hard and ugly to know somebody can understand you without even liking you.”
“If I saw you everyday forever, I would remember this time.” ❤
“It occurred to Dr. Lecter in the moment that with all his knowledge and intrusion, he could never entirely predict her, or own her at all. He could feed the caterpillar, he could whisper through the chrysalis; what hatched out followed its own nature and was beyond him. He wondered if she had the .45 on her leg beneath the gown.
Clarice Starling smiled at him then, the cabochons caught the firelight and the monster was lost in self-congratulation at his own exquisite taste and cunning.”
“On a related subject, Signore Pazzi, I must confess to you: I’m giving serious thought to eating your wife.”
“She wanted to go inside. She wanted to go in, wanting it as we want to jump from balconies, as the glint of the rails tempts us when we hear the approaching train.”