Thursday, March 11, 2021

Ratman’s Notebooks by Stephen Gilbert (novel #174)

You’ve probably never heard of this book, but if I told you it was the basis for the 1971 film Willard, does that ring a bell? Unlike the movie, named for the main character, the novel’s main character is unnamed, though he is later given, and assumes the sobriquet Ratman.


As the title suggests, the story is Ratman’s first person narrative, taken from his own journal, or notebook.


Ratman is a social misfit, living with his mother somewhere in England. His boss, a pompous and condescending jerk, keeps Ratman on, it seems almost for the joy of tormenting him with the knowledge that the company was founded by Ratman’s father, and sold off after his decease. 


Ratman has no friends, until he befriends – wait for it – a colony of rats. One rat in particular, Socrates, is highly intelligent and Ratman finds he is easily trained. Socrates then takes care of training the others. A bit later, Ben, another highly intelligent rat emerges. 


And things just get creepy, and awful, and desperate, and…don’t expect Disney to take up the franchise.


It’s a riveting read though. Gilbert does a wonderful job of causing the reader to empathize, before Ratman starts making creepy, awful, desperate use of his army of trained rats. 


Of course they that live by the….???...rat???…well, that would be a spoiler. 


Overall, I liked it…or more precisely found it riveting. It’s a pretty far-fetched tale. I have no problem suspending disbelief for a good story, but there was one thing I found ridiculous. There is plausible explanation for how Ratman discovered the rat’s intelligence and how he trained them. But somehow Ben…learns to READ…on his own. That was a major weakness in the plot for me. 


My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This novel satisfies a classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title, for the Back to the Classics 2021 Challenge, and a title with a possessive noun, for the What’s in a Name? 2021 Challenge.


I vaguely remember the movie, which was pretty creepy, and awful, and desperate. But, as far as I can remember, it omitted the reading rat, which may explain why the movie did better than the book. There is a sequel to the movie, titled Ben, but it wasn’t such a great flick. However, Michael Jackson performed and recorded the title song: Ben. Only Michael Jackson could make a hit song about a rat.



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