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Can You Hear Them Screaming?
The Silence of the Lambs - Thomas Harris
Member Name: samueltyler
The Silence of the Lambs - Thomas Harris
Advantages: Fast pace, good characters, great central relationship
Disadvantages: Now cliche, just like the film
When adapting a book to film the quality of the source material is not always essential and neither is closeness. The recent 'I am Legend' is the third film adaptation of the book, not including unofficial adaptations such as '28 Days Later', and each has differed from the other. Many times the film only pays minimal notice of the book using the central premise and little else. However, there are a couple of reasons why filmmakers may seek to stay close to the source. Firstly, the book may be a popular 'classic' and cinema goers just want to see a direct copy of the book in picture form e.g. 'The Da Vinci Code', unfortunately these films are often too wordy (Da Vinci) or detract from the film narrative by making continual concessions to readers of the book e.g. 'The Golden Compass'. The more positive reason that a film mimics a book closely is because the source material is of a high quality. It's for this reason that 'The Silence of the Lambs' in both book and film form are so similar - both are great examples of the modern-feel crime thriller genre.
Clarice Starling is a trainee FBI agent who just happens to be in the right place at the right time. One of her bosses is short of staff and needs someone to try and persuade an evil serial killer to partake in a survey whilst he is in jail. Surprisingly to everyone involved said serial killer, one Hannibal Lector, decides to talk to Starling and in doing do reveals his insights into another killer on the loose. This killer dubbed 'Buffalo Bill' is kidnapping and skinning young women. Now a politician's daughter has been taken and Lector finds himself in a great bargaining position. Starling finds herself caught between wanting to capture a killer and the various political interests in and out of the bureau. Is there more to Lector's giving attitude than meets the eye?
'Silence of the Lambs' was one of the most talked about and successful films of the early 90s combining tense storylines with top acting. I am glad to say that these are in a large part due to the quality of the book. Thomas Harris has not written many novels, but what he does sell millions. In Starling and Lector he has created two characters that play wonderfully off one another as well as being mysterious and interesting in their own right. The majority of the book follows Starling and making her a Rookie FBI agent open to the whims of her superiors means that Harris forces her to rely on Lector more than if she had been a senior officer. The inexperienced nature of Starling is a highlight of the book as she reacts to situations in a not dissimilar manner as the reader would.
The book would not be nearly as good if it had just been Starling hunting down 'Buffalo Bill'. Hannibal Lector is a great creation and this book probably represents his best appearance. The way in which Lector manipulates the entire cast of the book is great to read as although we dislike what he does Harris makes the majority of the smaller characters unlikable enough so that Lector becomes somewhat of an antihero. Lector is best used sparingly, with the reader only being given glimpses into his motives. This is what happens in this book and it makes the character and his relationship with Starling that much more tense.
The book has a fantastic relationship at its centre and Harris also creates a rich world of side characters to play with. However, without the central mystery being intriguing it would all pale into mediocrity. Therefore, the fact that Harris creates a hideous monster in 'Buffalo Bill' means that we have a vested interest in Starling and Lector's relationship. You truly wish for her to uncover who the murderer is before the next victim is dispatched, even if it means being manipulated by the hyper intelligent Lector.
The one area of concern that I have with 'The Silence of the Lambs' is probably not the original text's fault, but what has gone since. 'Lambs' was written back in 1988 and helped spawn dozens of copycat novels of which I have read many. This meant that although some of the ideas on show may have been original then, they are now cliché. There is also the problem that the book is very similar to the film to the extent where if you have read/seen one the other can be pretty much left alone.
Despite these misgivings I found the book a pacey and exciting read. Harris does write novels that read like films so the two feel very similar. The quality of writing does stand out and the relationship between Starling and Lector is one of the best in the crime thriller cannon. If you are interested in reading a dark modern crime novel that is not for the squeamish then there are worse ways to introduce yourself by reading one the best and most copied books around.
Author: Thomas Harris
Price: amazon uk - £5.49
play.com - £5.49
Summary: A great introduction to the world of dark crime thrillers