Thursday, December 14, 2006

Anthony Lane on the new Thomas Harris novel

He has written one great Lecter book, “The Silence of the Lambs,” and two lesser ones, so why produce a fourth that is not merely the weakest but that makes you wonder if the others were so gripping after all? There is a puff of grand delusion here, of the sort to which all thriller-writers are susceptible. Compare “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” an early novel by George V. Higgins, with the bulky solemnities of his later work; or, for that matter, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” with more recent le CarrĂ© like “The Night Manager” or “The Constant Gardener.” At some point, each man started to hear that he was so much more than the master of a genre (as if that were an ignoble thing to be), and responded to such flattery by expanding his fiction beyond its confines, not realizing that what he felt as a restriction was in fact its natural shape. That is how a writer loses thrust and form, and how Thomas Harris went from this, a jailbreak in “The Silence of the Lambs”:

“Lieutenant, it looks like he’s got two six-shot .38s. We heard three rounds fired and the dump pouches on the gunbelts are still full, so he may just have nine left. Advise SWAT it’s +Ps jacketed hollowpoints. This guy favors the face.”

To this, a love duet from “Hannibal Rising”:

“I see you and the cricket sings in concert with my heart.”
“My heart hops at the sight of you, who taught my heart to sing.”

Ed here: I think Lane nailed it when he said "At some point, each man started to hear that he was so much more than the master of a genre (as if that were an ignoble thing to be), and responded to such flattery by expanding his fiction beyond its confines, not realizing that what he felt as a restriction was in fact its natural shape."

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

But isn't Mr. Lane forgetting to mention the most obvious motive for Harris to continue the franchise - MONEY. Why is that so bad - for the author, that is?

Brian

Sandra Scoppettone said...

I think Harris has all the money he can ever spend. We used to have the same agent before she died and I know how much he made.

Of course there is the possibility that when he got his last contract they wanted him to write 2 more Lechter books. You don't turn down a multimillion dollar contract because you don't want to write another Lechter. Besides it seems so far away.

No, money couldn't be the reason. It's either a contract thing or he has no interest in writing anything really new. I vote for the second.

Todd Mason said...

Well, I'm not sure I buy the notion that RED DRAGON is inferior to SILENCE; I'd say they're about on a par, and both are flawed by the Ultimate Eeevul that is Lecter...even if both are vastly better than the films based on them.

Aside from possible contractual obligation and the roar of the crowd (it might well be Harris doesn't want to write anything else and doesn't mind picking up enough to make sure his theoretical grandchildren never need want for anything), it might well be that continuing to write about HL is easy...there were a number of years between BLACK SUNDAY (itself much better than the miscast though not terrible film) and RED DRAGON, and SILENCE didn't immediately follow RD...I wonder if Harris was busy with journalism or if it simply takes a while for things to gestate with him...and the (however limited) satisfaction of spinning out more Grand Guignol about the refined monster, with a still-eager reading public awaiting it, is hard to pass up. Conan Doyle didn't Need to revive Holmes, either...