I have to say for a person who scares easily, The Silence of the Lambs did not scare me. I am not sure if it was because I was dissecting the book while reading it or if it is just not that scary. I remember seeing the movie a number of years ago and being petrified, covering my eyes was a necessity, especially in one of the last scenes when Clarice Starling, the protagonist, is walking through the dark, gun at the ready, listening for Buffalo Bill, the serial murderer, who is watching her through night vision goggles ready but waiting to kill her. His game became Hollywood’s game.
I am still trying to figure out the entire reason why I was not scared while reading this novel. I am someone who can’t read Stephen King because I get too scared. I was even scared when I saw the movie Stand By Me and the kids are walking up on the dead body. Dead bodies freak me out. So why am I writing about such things? Maybe to face my own fears and no longer allow them to control me. I am controlling them.
The only aspect of Thomas Harris’s novel I could pick apart was the fact I was not scared when I should have been. On the flipside, many aspects work very well and sometimes even border on the line of brilliance.
For instance, Harris is able to leave the reader wanting more at the end of every chapter. Occasionally a few of his chapters linger for a bit too long, but if the reader can just hold on until the last sentence or two, Harris will tip you upside down or at least turn you around. At the end of chapter three, Clarice has just started talking to Dr. Lecter about a murder case. No one else can get him to talk. She is a rookie, and he plays with her, like a cat with a mouse. But he gives her a present, information, which allows her to work the entire case. He knows she will continue to talk to him and give him information, the only thing he values and loves, evidenced by the jailer’s punishment that seems to work, taking away Dr. Lecter’s books.
Harris continues to drop clues at the end of each chapter. They make sense to what the reader knows about the story, but they also make the reader try to figure out who the killer is or where the killer will strike next. At approximately three quarters of the way through the novel, Harris switches POV. He tells the story from Buffalo Bill’s POV. Buffalo Bill has taken his next victim and he walks the reader through the abductions and preparations for creating a bodysuit, complete with breasts for the killer to wear.
The chapters from his POV are the most interesting because they include his thoughts and because Harris switches to the victims POV. This is not done very often in the novel because as, Mike Kimball pointed out, the reader does not want to relate to the murderer. But Harris has written these chapters in such a way that the reader does not relate to Buffalo Bill. He is a killer. His background is explained, how and why he started killing, but I do not have any compassion for him. When I listen to Hannibal Lecter, I care for him, even though he killed more people in the course of the book than the serial murderer did.
I believe Harris was able to do this because he built a relationship with the reader through the relationship that developed over the course of the entire book between Clarice and Dr. Lecter. She liked him, respected him, and treated him with respect. After his gruesome escape, Dr. Lecter let Clarice know he was not coming after her because the world is better with her in it. Harris did not build any sort of relationship between Buffalo Bill and anyone. He had a lover, but the reader does not get to form a relationship with the lover. He had dead bodies, but we never knew the people. He had a victim in his house, but he ignores her, and she is not all that likable. It is difficult to connect to someone who is portrayed as a spoiled brat even in the throws of her imminent death. He has a relationship with a dog but we do not know the dog. Through relationship building, or lack of, Harris is able to gain our trust. Clarice is an FBI trainee hunting down a killer. We trust her. Who did not trust the FBI before the X-Files was on the air. Clarice trusts Dr. Lecter. Since we trust her, and she trusts him then by default, we trust him, even though he bites the faces off some of his victims.
The reader has to have the time in order to build relationships with characters. Harris has proven this is even possible with the most heinous of killers. We have to trust our saviors even if they are the bad guy.