Saturday, February 28, 2009

Their teeming hordes

James Herbert. There's a name from the past. I visited my folks recently and, as ever, grabbed a few of the books I've left there to bring back home. Three I took were The Rats, The Dark and The Fog by Mr H.

I first read these when I was 11 and, re-reading them now, I'm shocked that I did. What poor parents I had. They are very bloody, gruesome and graphically sexual in some places. Something I'm not sure I would want my kids reading when they were 11. The year I hit 11 Trevor Pickersgill told me what men and women did in bed. For what its worth - I didn't believe him. Though reading the books of Mr Herbert was incontrovertible evidence that he was right.

I remember all his books were a big deal at my school and we regularly used to sit around and read out the rude or gruesome bits to each other. Des, Strawb, Sandra Walker, Jackie Bell and Sniff were all part of that reading group.

The Rats in particular left a mark on me. Even now, if I am on a station platform or anywhere without something to read, then I'll work out what I would do if a swarm of giant rats attacked. My escape typically involves me performing some ridiculous feat of acrobatics to scale a wall, edge out on to a light bracket or beam and reach a point the ravenous creatures would not be able to get to.

What I had also forgotten was how apocalyptic the books were. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people die in each one. In The Fog the entire population of Bournemouth marches in to the sea and commits suicide en masse.

Where they any good? Not really. The Rats had a lot of bounce, I really liked his device of turning the story on new characters and, usually, their gruesome demise, and they all were easy on the eye. For an 11 year old they were great but for jaded old me they didn't quite hit the mark. The third word of opening sentence of The Rats was an adverb for fricks sake. But, hey, who am I to say. The blurb on the books describes them as supersellers - not just bestsellers. What writer would not settle for that kind of success?