Rats – James Herbert
Anyone my age would know that growing up horror books were the cool thing to read. In particular there were two novels that everyone seemed to read, Stephen King’s “IT” and James Herbert’s “Rats.”
I’ve read a few novels by James Herbert and always enjoyed them with the exception of one. He is best known for his “Rats” trilogy though and so I thought it was about time I honoured his memory by reading his most famous work.
It was only when the bones of the first devoured victims were discovered that the true nature and power of these swarming black creatures with their razor sharp teeth and the taste for human blood began to be realised by a panic-stricken city. For millions of years man and rats had been natural enemies. But now for the first time – suddenly, shockingly, horribly – the balance of power had shifted…
First of all this book is short. At 208 pages it positively flies by. It is also unusual in that although there is a main character in Harris, the majority of the book is comprised of introducing a character, providing a little insight into their background and then having the rats attack.
This formula shouldn’t work. I expected the novel to become very monotonous and tedious very quickly. However, the opposite happens in fact. Each attack feels different. Some are gruesome, some are almost comical but all the time the attacks advance the plot along at a frantic pace. Through the attacks we learn more and more about the rats and their sinister behaviour.
A lot of the characters Herbert introduces are very good. In a short space he makes the reader care for them. Some of them I did not want to leave and knowing this is the first book in a trilogy, I hope they will make an appearance again.
Harris is a good protagonist. As a teacher he becomes embroiled with the rats when one of his pupils is bitten. At first he is a reluctant hero, but gradually he develops over the course of the novel. He is a realist and offers a more holistic overview of the situation as opposed to the narrowed view of the government who try to address the problem without fully understanding it.
As I have already mentioned, Herbert does not hold back on his descriptions. The rats are extremely creepy and the images of gore are quite vivid. Herbert shows no prejudice over who he kills off, nor does he shy away from the description. At times I winced at the page which does not happen a lot to me.
The ending of the novel is wrapped up quite quickly. It is satisfying but not epic. I got the impression that this was more of a stopping point that a conclusion to the story and the sequel is hinted at nicely.
Overall, “Rats” is a perfect example of how a short novel can work well. It is genuinely scary in places and well written.
My rating: 9.0