Friday, 23 May 2014

‘Domain’ – James Herbert

Sometimes, things just have a habit of coming together at just the right time and in just the right way. I was reading Anne’s ‘YA Sexytimes’ post and it got me thinking about similar books I read (as a Young Adult). Well I say ‘similar’, there was nothing similar (other than the sex) about Richard Reinsmith’s ‘The Savage Stars’, colonists are stranded on an alien world and have loads of sex whilst deconstructing the oppressive regime created by their forebears, but you know what I mean.
And the horror books… As a kid it was common knowledge that the more gruesome the cover art was, the more likely there was to be graphic sex inside, usually just before someone having sex had something bitten off by something very nasty.

Which kind of brings me onto James Herbert’s ‘Domain’, a book that (along with ‘The Rats’ and ‘Lair’) my friends and I would skim through and snigger at the naughty stuff. I found a copy last night, in the micro-library up the road, and thought I’d give it a re-read; first time since about the first year of high school and all that so was anticipating memories of reading all sorts of stuff that the teachers weren’t keen on. The end result was kind of disappointing, I guess there are times when you shouldn’t go back…
Before we get started, have some blurb…

The long-dreaded nuclear conflict. The city torn apart, shattered, its people destroyed or mutilated beyond hope. For just a few, survival is possible only beneath the wrecked streets - if there is time to avoid the slow-descending poisonous ashes. But below, the rats, demonic offspring of their irradiated forebears, are waiting. They know that Man is weakened, become frail. Has become their prey . . .

So that sex scene was actually a very intense rape scene which made for very uncomfortable reading, even if the rapist got his just desserts by having his eyeball chewed out by a huge black rat. I’m not the reader I was when I was ten or eleven and this scene serves no purpose now other than gratuitous male on female violence that is topped off by rats attacking. The scene where survivors tunneling out meet rats tunneling in is done far better in my opinion.

The rest of the book swiftly proves to be, for me anyway, the weakest of the three ‘Rats’ books with very little horror or suspense to it. While I really got behind Herbert’s backdrop of a London wiped out by nuclear bombs, the way he structured his chapters removed a lot of the suspense and horror for me. The approach of having chapters for people who are clearly superfluous, and marked for death, just makes it clear that all the characters who matter are going to be ok. And they are, I skipped to the end of the book and they were just fine (sorry, spoilers and all that but it got to me).
The rats themselves seem strangely muted compared to the absolute gorefest that they indulged themselves in during the first two books. Of course, they do their thing but it seems to be glossed over with Herbert’s preference to write ‘Domain’ as more of a thriller than a horror piece. Herbert was a better horror writer than thriller writer in my opinion.

‘Domain’ is a perfectly serviceable book but it felt like it could have been a lot more and, as such, felt like a bit of let down in what is an iconic horror series. Oh well, never mind, on to the next book.


  1. Great piece, Graeme. This book had a profound impact on me as a teenager (it's responsible for me doing what I do!), but I felt similar when I went back and re-read it recently:

  2. It's amazing how some books stay the same but others can completely change from when you read them as a kid. 'Domain' isn't a bad read at all but I can't help feeling like I should have just let it be. I wonder how another re-read, in a few years time, would pan out...