Just the other day I saw James Herbert’s new novel in the supermarket at a cut down, end of aisle price. So I walked round the corner to the proper bookshop and bought it there. For the sake of a couple of quid I’d rather have the bookshop. Quite aside from anything else they host the book group I try and get to, and they have nice cake. Not that I can eat cake but I appreciate the gesture. I could eat cake, but having hit eleven stone now cake and I are undergoing a trial separation.
So I read it and like nearly everything Herbert it was very readable. And then just hours later I find out James Herbert had died. And I felt sad, and I still do.
I’ve muttered before about how I dislike the terms young-adult and teen-fiction. Teenagers that genuinely do read, read books. I did. And when I was a middling teen I read James Herbert. I also read Zelazny, Moorcock, Dick and any number of others but as a teenager I definitely read Herbert – and so too did many of us. His heroes were pretty much alike and the attractive foil for the hero likewise so that the inevitable sex scenes were identical between them. Ever thrown into sharp relief from the purity of the identical perfect first-fuck by the host of grubby perverts also in the book that would get eaten, or beaten, or just always killed. We know this because Herbert always showed, rarely told. He had the knack for spending a chapter going through the topsy-turvy, usually perverse, lives of someone only for them to get eaten by rats, ghosts, or killed by someone that has three chapters of their lives before suffering the same. He showed us what was so terrible by showing what happened. No nameless body on a beach with a bit of exposition to paint the eyes and mouth on a cardboard face here. And he was brilliant at it. I’ve read some snidey stuff about Herbert’s work recently. This is exactly what you’d expect since he sold millions. \But the thing is, absolutely everyone that met him describes what a great bloke he was. So I say good for him - and thanks for all the scary nights.
He was in many ways the English Stephen King, by time and success. But I don’t know what Maine looks like and Herbert had less characters that were writers. But I do or afterwards did know what Aldgate was like (Rats), what Wiltshire, Bournemouth and the Elephant were (Fog) – and so on . Domain got me fascinated with London under London and my Granda Bill then told me more. The last struck a chord too since nuclear war was not for we teens of the 80s unlikely, it was almost inevitable. It was.
And as I say James Herbert was readable. He told his tales with a fast pace, with chapters that made you read the next. With wonderful and realised passing supporting characters (that as I’ve said would then die). He was a British horror writer and he wrote for us. We read them when we were teenagers. And when we were teenagers the darkness never sparkled.
RIP James Herbert. You were great. Your work was important. We’ll miss you.