Review: The Silence of the Lambs

◆ The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
◆ Read July 2014
◆ English Edition
❝ There's a killer on the loose who knows that beauty is only skin deep, and a trainee investigator who's trying to save her own hide. The only man that can help is locked in an asylum. But he's willing to put a brave face on - if it will help him escape.
The Silence of the Lambs is special, in the sense that it is one of the few cases in which  a sequel is better than the first book in a series. In fact, I believe this book series has gained the most popularity because of the movie adaption of this book which was a groundbreaking success. After it's release, everyone suddenly knew about Hannibal Lecter, more so than with Red Dragon. The plot is simply superb and captivating, the characterization still really good, and the writing improved compared to the first book.

Those of you who read my review about Red Dragon will know that I had some issues with Harris' writing. Where the first book in the series about Lecter contained spelling mistakes and illogical jumps in tense, this book was consistent in writing, with just the right amount of dialogue, descriptions and action. In my opinion the writing of the author has improved greatly, though perhaps it might be because of the edition of the books I've read.

My favorite thing about this thriller/horror is the characterization. I enjoyed reading about Will Graham, but getting to know Clarice Starling was really refreshing for some reason. Women in novels are so often portrayed wrong, especially when written by male writers, but Harris does any woman in real life justice. Why? Clarice is both beautiful and really smart, with high grades at the FBI academy whilst also being outstanding in shooting a gun. She has a hard exterior, giving everybody she meets the impression that she can take care of herself, but we also get to see her softer side, like when she talks to Lecter about her father, or when she's thinking about the first assaulted girl, Kimberly.

Furthermore, Harris does not shy away from the subject of gender discrimination. Throughout the book, you get to experience what it's like to be a woman in the police world of men. Examples of this are the way Chilton hits on Clarice every chance he gets, but accounts any mistakes Clarice makes to the fact that she is a woman. How basically every male she meets seems to think she is only given the job because she is Crawford's "play thing". How everybody thinks she is only allowed to meet Lecter because she is, yet again, a woman and will appease him. How at her first job at a psychiatric ward, she gets a white substance on her face because an inmate is so impressed with her looks. And through all of this, Clarice puts on a brave face and tries to prove again and again that she belongs there, like all females do who work in a male-dominated world. Some readers interpret Harris' focus on gender differences as a form of sexism, but I simply see it as a portrayal gender inequality.

The characterization does not stop with Clarice though. Though you get little wiser about Hannibal's back story, you get a sense of his intelligence and find out he does everything he does because it amuses him because it passes the time. This is probably the greatest insight you could get because it indicates that Hannibal, unlike other serial killers, is functioning perfectly throughout all of his killings, making him that much more scarier of a cannibal. In addition, you get some insight into what Crawford is like outside work, and of course a great bit of detail about Jame Gumb, the killer the FBI is trying to catch.

Last but not least, I enjoyed all of the gory little details that take Harris' books the extra mile from being a thriller, to also being a horror. Examples of this are the head in the jar, the insect in the throat, the killing for skin, the technique with which Hannibal manages to escape in the ambulance, and so on. Thinking too much about some of these things can make you nauseous, but they are a great addition to the book and it is perhaps part of the reason why The Silence of the Lambs distinguishes itself from other books in the same genre. 

5 stars because:
✓Great characterization
✓Portrays gender discrimination
✓Captivating plot
✓ Gory details that place the book in the horror genre


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