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The Silence of the Lambs Paperback – September 15, 1998
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An ingenious, masterfully written novel, Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs is a classic of suspense and storytelling and the basis for the Oscar award-winning horror film starring Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
A serial murderer known only by a grotesquely apt nickname―Buffalo Bill―is stalking particular women. He has a purpose, but no one can fathom it, for the bodies are discovered in different states. Clarice Starling, a young trainee at the F.B.I. Academy, is surprised to be summoned by Jack Crawford, Chief of the Bureau's Behavioral Science section. Her assignment: to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist and grisly killer now kept under close watch in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Lecter's insight into the minds of murderers could help track and capture Buffalo Bill.
Smart and attractive, Starling is shaken to find herself in a strange, intense relationship with the acutely perceptive Lecter. His cryptic clues―about Buffalo Bill and about her―launch Clarice on a search that every reader will find startling, harrowing, and totally compelling.
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“A virtual textbook on the craft of suspense. A masterwork of sheer momentum that rockets seamlessly towards its climax....Harris is quite simply the best suspense novelist working today.” ―The Washington Post
“Beautifully written.” ―San Francisco Examiner
“Fast paced...intriguing...exciting.” ―Chicago Tribune
“Superb.” ―The New York Times
From the Publisher
"A virtual textbook on the craft of suspense. A masterwork of sheer momentum that rockets seamlessly toward its climax.... Harris is quite simply the best suspense novelist working today." The Washington Post
"Superb." --The New York Times
"Beautifully written." --The San Francisco Examiner
"Fast paced...intriguing...exciting." --Chicago Tribune
- Publisher : St. Martin's Griffin; First Edition (September 15, 1998)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0312195265
- ISBN-13 : 978-0312195267
- Item Weight : 8.1 ounces
- Dimensions : 6.25 x 0.96 x 9.24 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #770,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #6,280 in Psychological Fiction (Books)
- #10,932 in Psychological Thrillers (Books)
- #37,402 in Suspense Thrillers
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on March 18, 2015
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Top reviews from the United States
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On the grounds that everyone else on earth has seen the movie, I rented Silence of the Lambs over the weekend and found it surprisingly better than I'd expected: as far as classic films go, the movie held up well, and I was pleased to find how much of the movie explores institutional misogyny in the FBI and how Clarice Starling is forced to navigate a lot of hurdles that her male colleagues don't. Indeed, the movie piqued my interest enough that I bought the kindle book and audible audiobook and read along with the narrator to see if this theme was explored in more depth in the novel.
Twenty-four hours later, I'm still not sure how to rate this book. I found it entertaining to read/listen to. The novel is well-written from a purely technical perspective, though the occasional jumps to present tense when talking about people from Starling's past were sometimes disconcerting for me, since I'm less used to that style of writing. (Example: "Jimmy Price *is* a supervisor in Latent Prints at the Washington lab. Starling *did* time with him as a Forensic Fellow." [emphasis mine]) In some ways, the novel reminds me of the parts I liked in Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy , and the way the author could use otherwise "mundane" details to make the story feel vivid and immediate.
Also like Steig Larsson's trilogy, I feel like this book is trying to be an ally to women, and seeks to make some good feminist points...but I'm not sure how well it succeeds. I like protagonist Clarice Starling and I love her roommate Ardelia Mapp, and their conversations are some of the best in the novel. There's a lot of institutionalized misogyny that Clarice is forced to navigate around, just like in the movie, and quite a bit of this is handled reasonably well. There's a good conversation with Hannibal Lector about how society mistakes rage for lust, which I thought was a good dismantling of a lot of false "rape is a compliment" narratives. And I deeply appreciate the point made later in the novel when Clarice notes the incongruity in a case where all the victims are women, and yet NONE of the investigators are. That is a very crucial point that needs to be hammered home, and Harris does a good job of it.
On the other hand, the level of issues in this novel for female bodies that happen to be fat just about took my breath away, and it can't all be laid at the doorstep of the misogynistic serial killer. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when Starling came to the conclusion that the serial killer would have been *forced* to stalk his victims (as opposed to kidnapping them opportunistically) because tall, fat women "aren't common" and that if he'd just staked out a location waiting for one to walk by then he "could sit for days and not see one." Because us tall, fat women are like invisible pink unicorns! And our invisibility is an objective fact and not a matter of people only noticing the people they subjectively prefer to focus on.
Additionally, the author can't seem to decide what level of "sisterhood" he wants to push as part of the narrative. It's a very good point that a case with all-women victims deserves to have women investigators on the team. And Starling may well be correct when she claims that she "can walk in a woman's room and know three times as much about her as a man would know", although I would say that statement is an over-generalization that very much depends on both the woman who owns the room and the hypothetical man looking at it.
At the same time, Starling has moments where she has to push through her own rage and distaste and misplaced pity: anger at women who were born into more money than she; distaste for women with fat bodies who are axiomatically "hard on [their] shoes" which are "strained into ovals"; pity on fat women who are willing to date men who aren't turned off by fat bodies. I think Harris intends these details to make Starling realistically flawed, yet even after she works through her issues, she still feels judgmental of other women, trapped in the Exceptional Woman stereotype that helps her navigate institutionalized sexism but doesn't tear it down. The overall effect muddles the intended feminist message I feel the author is trying to deliver.
I've noted elsewhere that the movie is a mess when it comes to trans* issues, and the book tries to do better. There's much firmer establishment here of the fact that the serial killer is not a trans woman and that most trans* people are not violent -- indeed, that violence is much more common among cis people. But there's still the problematic framing that trans* people are "passive", which is a blanket characterization which others trans* people into a monolith with a word which is almost never used in a positive manner. ("Passive" is rarely a compliment, in my experience.) Additionally, the assessment of why the killer is not really trans* largely boils down to "because he gave the wrong answers on the psychiatric assessments", and some of these passages in the novel end up sounding reductionist, like there's only one "right" way to be a trans* person. As with the women's issues, it feels like the narrative was TRYING to be sensitive, but missed the boat.
I want to be clear, because sometimes my reviews are misunderstood: I enjoyed this novel. I'm giving it 4-stars. I'm pleased that I bought and listened to/read it. I might read it again someday. If you don't mind the above issues and/or can turn off the parts of your brain that are bothered by them for however long it takes to read a classic thriller novel, I recommend this book as enjoyable. But at the same time, this isn't a flawless novel of perfection, and I was a little disappointed to see an author try so hard to be an ally and miss the mark in places. Though I'm glad he tried at all, I hope that future writers who are inspired by this classic will improve on these flaws.
A note on the audiobook for this novel: I purchased the unabridged recording narrated by Frank Muller through Audible. Muller does a good job on the narration, but there's a persistent white noise hum in the background that I managed to tune out *except* when there was complete silence between chapters, at which point I noticed the soft white noise hum all over again when it started up in the next chapter -- each new chapter, I had to re-acclimate to the underlying sound, which took several sentences to get used to.
There's also a weird artifact on the track at the moment: at some points in the narration, there's "ghosting" on the track, as though there were two identical recordings of Muller's voice (a left and a right for stereo, maybe?) and one track suddenly falls a half-second behind the other, so it sounds like he's repeating himself for a moment until the voices re-sync. You can hear this at half a dozen points in the audio, including at Chapter 15 at time 3.08.49. I've reported this content error to Audible and they've been able to reproduce the error on their end, but they haven't yet fixed it as of 6/2/2013.
~ Ana Mardoll
Top reviews from other countries
The Silence of the Lambs is one of my favorite movies, by the way. It is a movie that I find deeply fascinating (I promise I'm not a serial killer). It never fails to give me chills. It's scary because it's realistic. Some the events of the film actually happened in real life. The novel is no less brilliant than the movie.
Thomas Harris spent years researching the psychological profiles of serial killers. The book was inspired by the real-life relationship between criminology professor and profiler Robert Keppel and serial killer Ted Bundy.
The Buffalo Bill character was actually a composite of three real-life killers: Ed Gein, Ted Bundy and Gary Heidnick. If that's not scary, I don't know what is.
The book has a very strong dark, gothic feel to it. I could imagine myself as Clarice, walking down that cell corridor. You feel as though you're a character in the story. And that's not a place you want to be.
Thomas Harris is a brilliant author. The Silence of the Lambs is one of the most gripping thrillers ever written. Same goes for its predecessor, Red Dragon. (The movie wasn't as good as the book. Forgive me Ralph Fiennes, my love!)
What more can I say? The movie is awesome. The book is awesome. The characters are awesome. The plot is awesome. Everything is awesome. Except murdering people. No. Just, no. That's not awesome.
I read the book years later as I wanted to see what it was like. Scarier, different or ..dare I read it? Well yes I did and Anthony Hopkins was in my head the entire time. It was almost like an audiobook this one since the actors are so iconic to the roles, I heard the dialogue and saw the FBI offices…but then I also relived the more gory scenes too. IT was quite something to read a book like this when the film was so iconic.
Largely filmed in and around Pennsylvania, I was intrigued to learn that the actual FBI training facilities allowed them to film there. Some trainees were said to have appeared in the film!
Imagine having to communicate to a psychopath to get clues on how to track down a serial killer at large. It’s one of the grittiest, darkest thrillers I’ve ever read. The book gives more insight into an already dark world. Fascinating stuff.
So, if you've seen the film, you probably should read the book too!
Head of fbi jack crawfords real reason for sending in starling is to try and get lecter to help in the search for a killer nicknamed buffalo bill.
With the latest victim kidnapped being the daughter of a senator, stakes are raised to find bill and see if lecter can help save the girl.
Fast paced, gory, suspenseful novel based around serial killers and a novice FBI agent.
Outstanding characters brought to life on the page and in the film adaption.
Worth a read whether or not you have watched the film.
You should read the other 3 books in the series in order and the early novel, Black Sunday, is also recommended.
Also recommend authors Bret Easton Ellis and the Chilling Classics of Stephen King (these are newly reissued by Hodder (May 2021).