Rats: A Year with New York’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan - review by Lucy Lethbridge

Lucy Lethbridge

The Pied Piper of Manhattan

Rats: A Year with New York’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants


Granta Books 243pp £12

In New York City, the rat exterminator (nowadays probably known as the Pest Control Manager) is as necessary a component of city life as the plumber, the electrician or the shrink. But to those who have never found a rat skulking, red-eyed and yellow-toothed, behind their bathroom pipes, there is probably something amusing about the job, something faintly ridiculous about the exterminator’s unending battle against a scuttling rodent as long as his forearm. Until we meet the foe eye to eye that is – and our stomachs churn at thought of their teeming breeding-grounds in our attics, and their endlessly gnawing incisors shredding our carpets and our cables. In fact, the rat exterminator is the modern urban equivalent of the dragon slayer.

Rats and humans live so close together that in built-up conglomerations they are virtually inseparable. Where there are humans there must also be rats (except apparently in Alberta, Canada, where an effective state rodent-proofing policy has kept them gnashing their fangs on the border). Rats enjoy the same diet as

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