Review: The Rats by James Herbert

Posted: January 5, 2014 in Reviews
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This is one of the seminal works of the renowned and recently deceased James Herbert.  I had the pleasure of listening to the audio book version of this story, which was read by Gareth Armstrong.  Gareth Armstrong is a fantastic audio narrator.  Of late he has been performing some of the audiobooks for The Black Library in their Horus Heresy series.  I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered his narration of The Rats.

The Rats is a story about an invasion of London by malevolent 2ft tall rats with a hunger for human flesh.  It follows the path of a school teacher called Harris and his experience throughout the ordeal of the invasion and the conclusion of the horrific ordeal.  Harris is a believable character and thought I didn’t really feel myself rooting for him (with the exception of the school scene) he is well drawn, likeable and sympathetic.

One thing James Herbert did really well is give you an insight into the average people of London during the invasion, and many of the chapters are really “slice of life” sub-stories which show the grizzly demise of one or a number of London’s citizens.  This, for me, was one of the best aspects of The Rats because James Herbert skilfully paints these characters as real people and makes you sympathise with them or care about them even though you know they’re about to have their eyes gnawed out a page later.

Some of the social commentary about public housing, poverty, sanitation, etc was very poignant and really made me think.

This is a great story and well written and in the hands of a skillful narrator such as Gareth Armstrong it is a delight to listen to in the audio format.  I wouldn’t say its a truly terrifying read. Creepy and  a bit gross.  His depiction of violence scenes is tasteful and restrained (when compared to splatterpunk etc).  There is no wonder that it is one of the great works of horror in past century and it’s no wonder that James Herbert was a bestseller and master author.

The ending was blatantly left open for a sequel.  Normally I don’t like it when this is done without any subtlety but I cant complain too much because the novel was totally awesome.  Herbert also wrote two sequels to The Rats, which I can’t wait to read in future.   I found some of the sex scenes or descriptions used in the sex scenes to be slightly awkward, but it didn’t really detract from the over all work.  For a story that was written in the early 70’s it has aged really well and is still a fantastic read 40 years later.

I’d consider this a must read for any horror fan or fan of apocalyptic themed fiction.

4.5 stars.



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