Strange World of Thomas Harris (Short Bo Paperback
by David Sexton
Thomas Harris is the great melodramatist of our time, author of the definitive thrillers of the last 20 years.
The Silence of the Lambs alone has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide. And yet Harris's phenomenal success has been achieved without any personal publicity whatsoever.
He has never given an interview. In this gripping - and sometimes chilling - profile, David Sexton exploits every possible source to get to the bottom of Harris's monstrous genius: who really is the man behind Hannibal Lecter?
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 128 pages
- Publisher: Faber & Faber
- Publication Date: 01/08/2001
- Category: Biography: general
- ISBN: 9780571208456
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Review by ElectricRay
This short book was featured in the Observer (a UK Sunday Newspaper) Literary Supplement in August 2001. In substance it's little more than an extended lit crit essay, with a bit of speculative history thrown in (as the author reminds us time and again, Harris talks to no man, and he is no exception). By and large this work does what Sexton wants it to - that is, to open the reader's eyes to a deeper, more sophisticated Thomas Harris than one might expect from the melodramatic (Sexton's term) serial thriller genre that Harris seems happy to sit in. Sexton certainly succeeds in that and the strands he draws out of Poe, Stoker, Conan Doyle are fascinating, if not totally compelling.BUT ... having said that, Sexton's range of references is pretty eclectic - in its literary tradition, Hannibal apparently derives from the three said potboilers and - um - Baudelaire!! (and the inevitable dash if Nietzsche, if I recall) but no-one else. Some of the links to these antecedents are pretty tenuous, which makes you wonder exactly how much homework Sexton did do - what, for example, might he have discovered if he'd done a compare and contrast on the Marquis de Sade as well? Or the Brothers Grimm? He makes great reference to the "Hannotations" website, where some poor obsessive has gone through Harris' latest (Hannibal) line by line uncovering obscure and extraordinary cross references in the text. This may be a worthwhile enterprise (after all, Harris spent ten years writing the book, so maybe he did concentrate on the text at this level) but I doubt it. Rather surprisingly there's not much in Sexton's book which doesn't appear on the web site - read from that what you will about the depth of Sexton's research.Sexton's fervent defence of Harris against all comers - especially in re Hannibal - smacks of untempered adulation: Having heard him out, I'm still not convinced that Hannibal wasn't the flat out clunker its many detractors suggest. Harris may be a literary genius - but on the same evidence may just be a mildly sociopathic saddo - and Sexton's arguments for the former aren't especially persuasive. Finally, Sexton's suggestion that Harris is the only decent writer of gothic melodrama (or any other popular fiction today, for that matter) is just silly - it leads one to wonder whether Sexton's shallow research isn't simply matched by the breadth of his holiday reading.