This is not a review of “The Rats” by James Herbert and it contains a lot of spoilers. But if you’re ever in a horror novel these lessons might save your life.
It was partly my fault. I did agree to read a book from her favourite genre, horror, and in exchange she read a fantasy novel I chose. Check out how that turned out.
Don’t ask me why a romance author prefers to read horror, but I’ve read some of Anna’s books, and you can barely tell that the author gets her jollies from reading about people being eaten alive by giant rats.
Yes, this post is going to be one huge spoiler for “The Rats”, but it’s really old so if you haven’t read it yet you were probably never going to.
Also, saying that people get eaten alive by giant rats in a horror book called “The Rats” can hardly be classed as a spoiler. Come on.
It starts with an old lady who goes crazy and her basement, though we don’t hear about the basement yet.
Then a down-and-out guy turns into a drunk and moves to London in order to be victim number 1 of the giant rats. That may not have been his intention.
I thought he was the main character. When he was eaten I realised I was wrong.
Lesson number 1: Don’t be one of the first three characters introduced in a horror novel. You will not survive more than one chapter.
We meet several more people. One is the hero, the others have very short life expectancies.
Lesson number 2: Horror stories require a large cast of characters, but most live only a few pages.
Lesson number 3: Every little scuffling noise is man-eating rats coming to get you, and every slight feeling of illness is a flesh-rotting disease that’s going to kill you painfully.
The rats come in different sizes. The biggest ones are the chieftain rats.
Lesson number 4: The bigger a monster is, the smarter and more dangerous it is. Also, the bigger teeth it has.
Some meth heads get eaten and a cop throws up.
Five chapters in, a lot of this book is gruesome, but none of it’s scary. I always thought horror was supposed to be scary. Perhaps the issue is proximity. For me, London (where the rats are rampaging) is so much on the opposite side of the world that if I dug straight down I’d probably emerge within spitting distance of it.
Would giant killer rats in Wellington be any scarier? I don’t know about that, but they would be funnier. It helps that Wellington is something of a joke to start with.**
At almost exactly the 25% mark in the book, one of the few characters who has not yet died learns that the rat problem is bigger than anyone realised, and he’s going to help with the investigation.
This made my structure-loving little heart glow.
Not-dead guy, who happens to be an art teacher, and the investigation-dudes spot the rats heading for an area of flats. The rat-catcher goes after them, confident that he can handle them.
Lesson number 5: Never be confident in your ability to handle anything. You will be the next to die, and not even an old lady with a broom will be able to save you.
The teacher/hero gets out of London for a nice weekend with his girlfriend, because even in horror novels people need down time.
Especially in horror novels.
Lesson number 53: Always take the time to enjoy a nice weekend out of town, because you never know when you’ll be devoured by rats.
We meet another victim, but not for long.
Lesson number 6: Don’t go on the tube. Rats. Tunnel. Just don’t.
I always thought the horror was supposed to increase as you went through the story, but I’m not sure how much higher it can go. Giant, intelligent, man-eating rats that carry a horrific disease and eat their victims alive. Next you’re going to tell me they hand out detentions to people who litter.
We meet some people on a train and head hop so much that I feel sick. Amazingly, they don’t die.
Everyone else on the train does.
Lesson number 7: If head-hopping is going on, to maximise your chances of survival make sure you’re a part of it.
At the 50% mark, the rats lay siege on the school.
Lesson number 8: The bars that stop a school window being broken by stray balls also keep rats out.
Lesson number 9: Windows that are accidentally left open do not keep rats out.
The basement is the weak point. I think it’s a design flaw in these cities that every building has a basement and every basement is connected by a rat highway of sewers. Someone should do something about that.
The men beat the rats at the school. It wasn’t a fair fight. The men had opposable thumbs, fire hoses, and hundreds of years of scientific knowledge of their side.
After the siege at the school, and facing a city overrun by rats, someone comes up with the brilliant idea of bringing in a different species of rat to battle the mega-rats.
Lesson number 10: Ignore every suggestion made by a civil servant.
They decide to use a virus instead, and it’s going to be spread by puppies. What did I tell you about ignoring civil servants?
The puppies are unleashed, rats die, and everyone thinks the problem has been solved (again).
Lesson number 11: At least the first two times you think the problem has been solved it hasn’t, and a lot more people are going to die.
People die at the cinema, people die at the zoo.
Lesson number 12: If rats are attacking your zoo animals, don’t set the man-eating big cats loose. You will be their dinner.
Operation Extirpate begins. Evacuate London. Gas the rats.
And we end up back at the house where the woman went crazy, the source of the problem.
Lesson number 13: When a mad scientist ships a box back from the jungle labelled “soil samples” and you hear a strange scrabbling noise coming from inside, don’t let it into the country. Burn it. Better, nuke it.
In the house, the art teacher goes into the basement, nearly dies, finds the body of a guy who did die, and kills the king rat.
Lesson number 14: Unless you’re the hero, don’t go into the basement.
Lesson number 15: Never mess with an art teacher.
Epilogue: The rats aren’t all dead because people who evacuate can’t follow instructions and the police were too polite to knock down their door. Another king rat is headed for puberty.
I assume the people who got bitten along the way died in flesh-rotting agony.
Bonus lesson: Never trust government-issue protective equipment.
What did I think of this book overall? It was an entertaining read, but there were too many rats and not enough dragons.
** To my fellow Wellingtonians, I’m kidding, obviously. But it is.
How often do you read outside your genre? Is it more often a pleasant surprise or vaguely disappointing?
Do you want to follow my blog without getting email overload? Sign up for the monthly digest to get just one email a month that contains all my new posts as well as other fun stuff.