Andro Linklater

Losing the rat race

This is a book for anyone whose blood ever ran chill on reading the most sinister recipe in fiction, Samuel Whiskers’ instructions on how to cook Tom Kitten: ‘Anna Maria, make me a kitten dumpling roly-poly pudding for my dinner, make it properly with breadcrumbs.’ With or without breadcrumbs, or indeed butter and flour as Anna Maria preferred, rats will eat anything, dead or alive, from kittens to albatrosses.

This is a book for anyone whose blood ever ran chill on reading the most sinister recipe in fiction, Samuel Whiskers’ instructions on how to cook Tom Kitten: ‘Anna Maria, make me a kitten dumpling roly-poly pudding for my dinner, make it properly with breadcrumbs.’ With or without breadcrumbs, or indeed butter and flour as Anna Maria preferred, rats will eat anything, dead or alive, from kittens to albatrosses.

This is a book for anyone whose blood ever ran chill on reading the most sinister recipe in fiction, Samuel Whiskers’ instructions on how to cook Tom Kitten: ‘Anna Maria, make me a kitten dumpling roly-poly pudding for my dinner, make it properly with breadcrumbs.’ With or without breadcrumbs, or indeed butter and flour as Anna Maria preferred, rats will eat anything, dead or alive, from kittens to albatrosses. If they have a particular gourmet preference, William Stolzenburg reveals in his ripping ratocidal yarn, it is to nibble into the skull of a fledgling seabird and suck out the brains.

For the most part, however, they live off the cheese parings, chewed bones and forgotten crumbs that fall from the human table. Thus, wherever we go, there goes rattus rattus, the common brown rat, and sundry close relatives. However, its voracious appetite has now put it at the centre of a moral conflict dividing the ecological community. As our destruction of habitat drives rare species into remote and often island havens, where they become especially vulnerable to rats, the question arises, is it justifiable to wipe out one species in a particular place in order to let another survive?

This is the background to Rat Island. Admittedly morality does not get much of a look in, not when the chief villain is a scaly-tailed brain-sucker, and the chief victim is an utterly adorable flightless parrot called a kakapo that smells of freesias, and seduces its mate with resonant booms delivered from a distended belly while dancing in a dusty bowl in the ground.

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