The Silence of the Lambs is a psychological crime fiction thriller, written by Thomas Harris, and was originally released in 1988. It is also the second novel in the Hannibal Lecter book series, but is usually read first, and can be read as a stand-alone.
The novel follows FBI trainee, Clarice Starling, who is tasked with visiting a man in a high-security facility for the criminally insane, as a part of her search for the serial killer, Buffalo Bill. The man she’s tasked with visiting is the brilliant brutal serial murderer known as Hannibal Lecter. This former psychiatrist has peculiar tastes and a curiosity for the darkest, deepest corners of the human mind. Fascinated with the lovely Starling’s bright intellect and eagerness to learn, Lecter develops an intimate bond with Clarice, one that will inevitably lead to a shocking outcome.
Up until a few weeks ago, I was in the mood to read dark and twisted psychological thrillers. So, Sir Betrothed suggest I read this novel because it is considered to be a classic in both the thriller and horror genres. Yet, after finishing it, I have realised two important things. Firstly, the book is the least frightening thing I have ever read, and secondly, it did not age well at all. Regardless, it did make for an excellent psychologically-focused narrative.
One of my absolute favourite aspects of the book is the fantastic exploration of psychology. We see how psychology works both in the medical field from a professional’s point-of-view, as well as how psychology is used for profiling with police officers in a criminal case. They are two distinct practises of psychology, which depending on the person doing the analysis, can change the entire face of a criminal investigation. This balance of seeing Lecter provide Starling with specific information and then seeing Starling take that information and combining it with her training at the FBI Academy made for engrossing and contemplative moments that would flow throughout the book. I appreciated how it was written and I respected that it took its time with developing it.
“Problem-solving is hunting; it is savage pleasure, and we are born into it.”
The second-best part of the narrative is the character of Hannibal Lecter himself. The man is fucking brilliant, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned already. Yes, he’s a vicious person, capable of unimaginative horrors, but he’s still the smartest person in the room, no matter which room it is and who he’s with. His high-level intelligence coupled with the conversations that he has with Clarice were unbelievably addicting to read. If I could have a book that is nothing more than conversation upon conversations between him and Clarice, or him and anyone, to be honest, I’d pick it up in a heartbeat. He is an exceptionally written character who is multi-dimensional in a mysterious and subtle way. You receive just enough screen-time with him to leave you craving for more. He is interesting and compelling, and you grow to empathise with him due to the simple fact that he is well-mannered and cognitively gifted.
Lastly, Clarice’s bluntness and openness with Lecter during their chats was a pleasant change from the typical coy and stuffy women cops that you normally see in books from the genre. It may be due in part to her being a trainee, her naivety and innocence making her more forthright and easily excited, nonetheless it worked well in building that authentic chemistry between them. The only time you would see Clarice feel anticipation at all was when she was with Lecter. When she’s with her cop colleagues, she felt so out-of-place and awkward; it probably didn’t help that they were all much older men.
“She didn’t give a damn about some of them, but she had grown to learn that inattention can be a strategy to avoid pain, and that it is often misread as shallowness and indifference.”
Other minor facets that helped contribute to the reading experience was the creepy, twisted, and bizarre premise where Buffalo Bill is concerned. Their motive for killing was something I would never have been able to predict. I enjoyed that bit of unpredictability, mostly because it was the only part of the book that was unforeseeable to me. In addition, the author did a decent job of creating atmosphere and ambiance in certain scenarios that helped draw you into the narrative more and more, however, it wasn’t very consistent from beginning to end.
My biggest complaint about The Silence of the Lambs was its predictable nature. There was nothing frightening about this novel, and aside from BB’s motive, I saw everything else coming from a mile away. That is not a good quality in a book that is described to be a thriller, a suspense thriller to boot. The problem with predictability is that it causes the book to feel immensely slow-paced. Getting to that finale, which was ridiculously anticlimactic, felt like I was walking through quicksand. The only saving grace were Lecter-Starling scenes. When I wasn’t reading a Lecter-Starling scene, I was unbearably bored out of my mind, just waiting desperately for something stimulating to occur. I was left waiting until the very last page.
Buffalo Bill, even with being a plot device, was a one-dimensional and lacklustre one. I felt utterly detached from them the entire time. I suspect the only reason for this indifference stems from the fact that their POV is included in the book. You learn their identity early on, in the third or fourth time you read from their POV, and it wholeheartedly slaughtered any element of suspense I could have received from these sections. I never understood why an author would write from the criminal’s POV with their identity fully revealed. I respect and appreciate an ambiguous perspective because than it leaves some room for imagination and anxiety or intensity. But when I know it all, I don’t care at all. Aside from being mentally ill and just an eccentric fucking person, Buffalo Bill is about as interesting as the laces on my chucks, making them a rather mundane and irrelevant.
The Silence of the Lambs is a grade-A example of overhyped bullshit. I can respect the book for what it is in regard to psychological examination, because as I mentioned that part is damn good. I can also see how the book can be construed as being emotionally terrifying due to the era it was published in. The late 80s and early to mid-90s had some scary ass killers on the loose. But in today’s day and age, the novel is a colossal disappointment and a vaunted waste of time for anyone in search of a good, heart-twisting fright. It has not aged well at all, which is evident by the use of the word “transvestite” and “transsexual” to describe trans people. I would not recommend this to anyone who wants to read a genuine, bonafide horror, and I would only reluctantly recommend it to those interested in psychological analysis or examination.
2.75 moths outta 5!
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