'Hannibal' by Ross Leckie

Hannibal by Ross Leckie

Canongate Books
Paperback, 243 pages
ISBN: 1847670997
2008
$15.89

This is a nasty book. If you’re expecting to read about Hannibal the famous general, Hannibal who crossed the Alps and gave the Romans the thrashing they deserved, forget it. This is Hannibal the man, one who doesn’t care how many die in his pursuit of the revenge-wish he inherited from his father. He takes his wife and newborn baby through the alpine ice and snow, and then butchers some Roman women because the baby dies (the death is the Romans’ fault–parse that one if you can).

Of course, there’s also his good side–after his wife is brutally raped and killed by the Romans, he forbids his troops to rape. If you’re thinking he’s a mess of contradictions, then yes, he is–and it’s not helped by the first person narrative giving the illusion of an insight into his motivations and character that isn’t really there. Sometimes, Hannibal, who’s writing this narrative as an old man in the expectation of imminent capture, feels the need to justify his actions. Othertimes, even such insufficient justification is lacking. The book would probably have worked better in third person, or with a different narrator, as it isn’t able to get under Hannibal’s skin and explain how his mind works.

At certain points in this book, I had to stop reading because what was portrayed was so viciously and needlessly cruel. In fiction it would be bad enough; in a novel based on true events, it’s unbearable.

The book’s well written, evokes the violence convincingly, is crammed with period detail, and has elephants. Excellent for those with strong stomachs. Not so good for sensitive souls.

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