Monday, December 11, 2006

Hannibal redux

Earlier this evening a friend's bounty brought me a copy of Hannibal Rising, really nothing is going to stop me from reading it but it is true that a damper was placed on my enthusiasm when I saw what Anthony Lane had to say just now at the New Yorker (and the thing is I can see that Lane really loves those earlier books too, this is not just someone doing a scathing takedown with no sense of what made the early Lecter books total genius):

Hitherto, the champions of Lecter have ascribed to him a core of monstrosity, no more malleable than a diamond, and native to him alone; if so, it is brushed aside and squandered by the uncovering of his past. With “Hannibal Rising,” we watch the legend sink.

Why did Harris pursue this line of inquiry? 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.

I could not agree more about Le Carre, in fact it was "The Night Manager" in particular that really first strongly drew my ire (you can see it certainly in "The Constant Gardener" also, but I think "The Night Manager" was the most comically and disgustingly over-the-top embarrassingly affected and pretentious). And I truly now can no longer see the merits of even the best early Le Carre, I tried to reread "Tinker Tailor" a few years ago and found it pretty tedious. Hmmm....

1 comment:

  1. I'm a long-time reader of your blog. This is my first time posting so please go easy on me, but by all means please reply to my post (assuming you have the time - I know you just moved). I'd love to hear your thoughts.

    I'm not sure what you mean when you say that "The Night Manager" was comically and disgustingly over-the-top embarrassingly affected and pretentious. I thought it was just a padded, overwritten James Bond pastiche. Cut half the words out and it would have been a spectacular adventure novel. A James Bond novel in all but name according to several book reviewers. I thought "The Constant Gardner" was poorly written (though not as poorly written as "The Mission Song"). As for "Tinker", I myself tried to re-read it again. It's beautifully written: full of crisp, literate sentences... it has atmosphere to spare... but falls down with its lousy, needlessly cryptic over-complicated, uninvolving story. As for his so-called classic "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold", the story is too contrivedly silly for words.

    I've always thought Le Carre overrated. I'm not alone. Kingsley Amis, Anthony Burgess, Clive James, Brian Moore, Harold Bloom, John Updike, and Salman Rushdie have either been sceptical or thought nothing of him. Burgess said that Le Carre was a very boring writer of very big and very boring books that were very good at putting you to sleep.

    I think people responded to Le Carre's muscular prose and pretentions. He was also of his time. It helped that he wrote in a post-Bond and post-Watergate era. Now, we can see him for the doddering old man that he is. This also ties in with a comment of yours in another thread: "In other words, it's not the case of a writer of great good faith somehow losing their integrity, it's a weakness that was always present just coming out much more strongly in the sloppier and less original later writing."

    And I would add, "thereby drawing attention to the flaws in the earlier works that one wasn't initially aware of."