Hannibal Rising: Hannibal Lecter's origin mythHannibal Rising is Thomas Harris's latest book in his wildly successful Hannibal Lecter/Silence of the Lambs series. Harris has written precious few novels -- a thriller called Black Sunday and the four Lecter novels -- in thirty years. But for all that he's a very occassional writer, his books loom large in the popular consciousness, and with good reason. They're very, very good.
Hannibal Rising is the origin story of Hannibal Lecter, his childhood in war-torn Lithuania his life in a Soviet orphanage, his rescue to rural France, his move to Paris, and finally, his internship at Johns Hopkins in the USA. Hannibal is basically a superhero -- possessed of superhuman strength and intellect -- and so this is the equivalent of the radio-active spider bite and robbery-gone-bad that turns Peter Parker into Spiderman.
Harris writes superbly -- he's clearly an obsessive researcher, and he revels in the incredible, vividly drawn scenery he conjures. He imbues Hannibal with a cold psychopathy that sends shivers up your spine even as it evokes a strange sympathy for him.
The thread that connects all the Hannibal books is the philosophical question: where does evil come from? In The Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal is a kind of oracle of evil -- someone who understands it so well that he can tell you where it will strike, and hint that he knows why it will strike, too.
In Hannibal Rising, Harris takes us through the incredible atrocities that transform Hannibal from a brilliant little boy into a cold murderer. As we found out in Hannibal, the last book in the series, Hannibal's family was murdered by looters during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania, who then ate his sister. In Hannibal Rising, we live through the events leading up to this, and through Hannibal's life afterwards, as he turns his brilliance to revenge, transforming himself from someone whose love is so fierce he kills for it into someone who can't feel love at all.
This makes the Hannibal/Clarice Starling love affair in Hannibal (hinted at in Silence of the Lambs) pay off all the more. Hannibal Lecter may be the most interesting anti-hero in contemporary fiction, a character so good that he works as well in film as he does in print.
The audiobook edition of Hannibal Rising is superb -- Harris himself reads it, in his soft southern accent, doing a marvellous job with the European accents, giving the text a real suspenseful treatment that only the author can impart.
There's only one thing I don't like about this book -- the cover. It stinks. It's like someone rang down to the art department and said, "Get that guy who letters all the crummy Tolkien knockoffs to just write the title on burnt parchment, OK?" Link, Link to audiobook