Silence can be considered horror, and after reading the novel I'm still not sure if it is or not. The violence and degradation is presented so starkly that there is nary a whiff of exploitation or gleeful malevolence in Harris's intent. However, in this edition I found, the original paperback from 1989, you can see who the book was being marketed to originally, with Clive Barker's blurb emblazoned prominently on the front cover... something quite noticeable in its absence on the later movie tie-in edition.
While reading it the film buff in me marveled at the screenwriter's adaptation of such a psychologically taut and precise work; he knew just what to leave in and what to leave out. What got left out works wonderfully in the novel but would have weighed the film down: Starling's precarious place as a rookie on such a treacherous case, Crawford's dying wife, the intricacies and political jostlings of the FBI Academy, Lector's maroon eyes and six fingers on one hand, and especially, the hideous history of Jame Gumb presented in almost police-report detail.
Harris is that kind of popular writer that can move a story forward with power, with conviction, but doesn't stint on those tiny insights into human nature that convince you you're reading something real, by a writer who's lived and isn't just repeating what he's heard. Describing the crude dirty joke to Crawford that gave Gumb the serial-killer nickname "Buffalo Bill," Starling discovered she had traded feeling frightened for feeling cheap. Of the two, she preferred feeling frightened. Later, when in a rural funeral home processing the monstrously wounded victim found in a river, Crawford knows he made the right choice in plucking Starling from school to help in this case:
Crawford saw that in this place, Starling was heir to the granny women, to the wise women, the herb healers, the stalwart country women who have always done the needful, who keep the watch and when the watch is over, wash and dress the country dead.
One of the men who had a relationship with Gumb describes him well and truly, chilling in its simplicity: You always felt the room was a little emptier when he came in. Whew. That's good. And poor Catherine Martin, Gumb's current victim, who in that horrid hole dreams the dark came into her, insidious, up her nose and into her ears, damp fingers of dark proposed themselves to each opening of her body.
As for Lecter, he is quite what we saw in the movie version, although Dr. Chilton (god, that asshole!) and imposing orderly Barney both have insights into his nature that are quite penetrating: Lecter is not afraid of pain, of solitude; no, what he fears most is boredom and indignity. A mind as vast and all-consuming as Lecter's cannot bear those things, and it is with these coins that Starling attempts to bargain...
If you've seen the movie but haven't read the book thinking there's no point: read the book. If you've read the book, why, read it again. I think it's pretty much pop-fiction in its finest hour, horror fiction or not.
Next, Lecter dropped a note to Dr. Frederick Chilton, in federal protective custody, suggesting that he would be paying Dr. Chilton a visit in the near future. After this visit, he wrote, it would make sense for the hospital to tattoo feeding instructions on Chilton's forehead to save paperwork.