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Rats, Ice Cream and Burgers

While David Walliams’ novel Ratburger is grimy and realistic with grotesque elements, he shows us that the world is not empty of hope, making the reader go through a crazy adventure

Published: 20th January 2014 12:13 PM  |   Last Updated: 20th January 2014 12:14 PM   |  A+A-

David-Walliams

David Walliams’ novel Ratburger has a disgusting title; but once you finish reading it, you won’t be as disgusted by rats as you used to be. You might, however, be a lot more disgusted by burgers.

The story centres on Zoe, a young girl who lives in a grimy council estate, sort of the British equivalent of a slum. Her father, who used to work in an ice cream factory and bring her samples of all the exciting flavours he was inventing (including a few less-than-exciting flavours like Snail and Broccoli), is out of work. Zoe’s mother died when Zoe was only a baby and, worse luck, her father had recently remarried.  Zoe’s new stepmother is Sheila, a fat, lazy woman who leaves the house in a dreadful mess and sits around eating prawn cocktail flavoured crisps all day long. Zoe’s father seems to have given up on finding a new job and spends most of his time at the local pub. At school Zoe’s life is made miserable by Tina Trotts, a nasty bully.

The only bright spot in Zoe’s sad little life is Gingernut, her pet hamster. He lives in a cage in her bedroom and she has taught him all sorts of tricks.

She dreams of putting on a show with him some day and becoming wealthy and famous. Zoe loves animals and wants to grow up to be a trainer.

Then one day, Gingernut dies.

It seems that all the joy has gone out of Zoe’s life — but then she finds a little baby rat in her room. She makes friends with the rat and he becomes her new pet. If she leaves him at home when she goes to school, Sheila might find him and get rid of him, so Zoe takes the rat to school.

Sitting in the loo, she decides to name him Armitage, after the company that manufactured the commodes in the school toilets — something which causes her a lot of embarrassment when people ask her how Armitage got his name.

One of her teachers discovers Armitage, and Zoe is suspended from school. Just when it seems like her fortunes cannot sink any further, it turns out that Sheila and Burt, a creepy fellow who sells disgusting burgers outside school, are making plans to kill Armitage.

Burt secretly makes his burgers out of rats — and his ketchup out of cockroaches!

Now Zoe has to defeat Sheila and Burt, and somehow save Armitage. Along the way, she has to indulge in large-scale destruction of property, to witness the truly horrifying operations at Burt’s burger factory and to persuade her father to leave the pub, snap out of his slump and help her out. She is helped by the local general store owner, Raj, who is always ready with good advice and pilfered candy from his store.

Most of all, her love for the sweet, intelligent baby rat Armitage gives her the courage she needs to battle against some very long odds and some very crazed people.

Walliam’s villains are truly vile and grotesque, and they come to suitably gruesome ends. Even though there is a lot that is exaggerated or far-fetched (or is it?) in his story, the setting is grimy and realistic, showing us how squalid and drab Zoe’s apartment block is, as well as her school, which serves such awful food that Burt’s burgers seemed like a better option. But it is not a world that is empty of hope — a blueberry bush somehow manages to grow among the trash, giving Armitage and Zoe a much-needed snack at one point. And not all villains are evil all the way through, as Zoe discovers when her destruction of her bedroom wall forces her to share a room with the school bully, Tina Trotts.

Telling you any more would give the game away, so I’ll just say that this is a zippy, fun book that will have you laughing out loud as often as it will have you chewing your nails in suspense.

And once you have finished reading it, you won’t look at bullies, rats, burgers or ketchup in the same way ever again!



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