THE RATS (James Herbert)

61TsFHNfdoL._SL300_I am a simple fool, so no wonder I like this book. And a plot rarely gets simpler than this. Mr Herbert’s first book follows an outbreak of mutated giant rats in London, with most of the (early) action focused around the Docklands. The novel is reasonably short at just under 200 pages and the action proceeds at a rapid pace. There isn’t time to get bored during this!

The book’s rats – larger, fiercer and much more intelligent than the more mundane types known to us – seem to be hellbent on human and animal flesh and get to it in a series of ever more violent encounters. This is something I probably should not admit to but I felt a growing sympathy for the rats. They reminded me of monsters off Dr Who like the Daleks. One on one they aren’t much to fear, but you’ve got to admire how organized they are in their quest to take out humanity. They have that herd instinct, always acting in unison. Some of the horror readers 40 years ago would have felt has been eroded over time, with most chilling fiction / movies these days being much crueler and more violent than was the norm in 1974. Irrespective, there is still quite a number of chilling scenes throughout.

The chapters usually cover individual events / attacks, and tend to give a short background story to the person who will feature most prominently. These vignettes perhaps make the book more chilling, since it is not just the anonymous masses getting attacked but also characters the reader gets to know at least on some level first. On top of the horror elements, the author also does a good job of portraying a day in the life of ordinary Londoners, the remaining bombsites where he himself used to play as a child, as well as the workings of a large bureaucracy. This element is perhaps handled more as an aside (in how the rat extermination efforts are organized and led) but rounds up the book quite nicely.

Of the protagonists, there is Harris, a school teacher (actually the school used in the book corresponds to the one the author went to in real life) who is more or less the only prominent figure staying throughout the book. While this novel does not focus on in-depth character development, one could call the protagonist sufficiently fleshed out and the elements of fear clearly battle with the bravery he at times also feels. If you are looking for disaster/horror fiction based in/around London, I can definitely recommend giving this a try. It may not be the most gruesome (still more than young readers should be subjected to) but it has an interesting enough premise, a page turning pace and some reasonable characters. And if you like it, there are some sequels to keep you going for a bit longer too.

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