Title: The Radleys
Author: Matt Haig
Genre: Literary Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (US) / Walker (UK)
Publication Date: September 20, 2011 (US) / July 2010 (UK)
Paperback: 384 pages
Just about everyone knows a family like the Radleys. Many of us grew up next door to one. They are a modern family, averagely content, averagely dysfunctional, living in a staid and quiet suburban English town. Peter is an overworked doctor whose wife, Helen, has become increasingly remote and uncommunicative. Rowan, their teenage son, is being bullied at school, and their anemic daughter, Clara, has recently become a vegan. They are typical, that is, save for one devastating exception: Peter and Helen are vampires and have — for seventeen years — been abstaining by choice from a life of chasing blood in the hope that their children could live normal lives.
One night, Clara finds herself driven to commit a shocking — and disturbingly satisfying — act of violence, and her parents are forced to explain their history of shadows and lies. A police investigation is launched that uncovers a richness of vampire history heretofore unknown to the general public. And when the malevolent and alluring Uncle Will, a practicing vampire, arrives to throw the police off Clara’s trail, he winds up throwing the whole house into temptation and turmoil and unleashing a host of dark secrets that threaten the Radleys’ marriage.
The Radleys is a moving, thrilling, and radiant domestic novel that explores with daring the lengths a parent will go to protect a child, what it costs you to deny your identity, the undeniable appeal of sin, and the everlasting, iridescent bonds of family love. Read it and ask what we grow into when we grow up, and what we gain — and lose — when we deny our appetites.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher
Why did I read this book: I’ve heard nothing but good things about The Radleys from both sides of the pond, so I was eager to give this book a shot when I learned of its new release in paperback. Plus, the book promises a refreshing take for those suffering from vampire fatigue…
The Radleys are your typical small village middle class English family – middle aged husband Peter and wife Helen with two teenage children (a boy, Rowan, and a girl, Clara), contented with the daily mundanities of suburbia. Book clubs. Picket fences. Insipid dinner parties with neighbors. That sort of thing.
Except the Radleys aren’t quite like every other family on the block. The Radleys, in fact, are vampires.
Peter and Helen have given up the wild, hedonistic days of their youth and have agreed to abstain from blood altogether in order to provide their unsuspecting vampire children with the most normal life possible. They’ve also, however, made the decision to keep the truth of the family’s vampirism a secret from Rowan and Clara. While the Radleys struggle to hide in plain sight, people (and animals) have always noticed that something is a little off with the family. Rowan and Clara are both sickly children with severe sun sensitivity and a persistent case of fatigue only exacerbated by insomnia. Meanwhile, Helen and Peter’s marriage crumbles a little more each day, as Helen remains as relentlessly unyielding when it comes to anything vampiric or blood related (this, naturally, puts a damper on the sexual relationship between the couple). When an unsuspecting Clara decides that she is going to go vegan in an attempt to make herself feel healthier and somehow be more appealing to the animals that seem to hate her, the Radleys’ greatest fear comes to pass. Without any viable animal product substitutes in her system, Clara’s starvation instincts kick in and she violently murders (and devours) one of her classmates.
To cover up the murder, Peter is forced to call his brother Will – an active vampire – to help them dispose of the remains. Will, however, is as wicked as they come, and has a lurid history with Peter’s wife. It’s not long before Will’s influence begins to infect the Radley clan, and the family is pushed to its limits.
The winner of the ALA’s Alex Award – that is, the award given to books written for adults but have “special appeal” to young adult readers – The Radleys is your usual dysfunction suburbia story, but with a vampiric twist. There are numerous familiar elements from both the literary and speculative fiction realms: on the literary side, there’s the marriage-gone-bitter (complete with extramarital affairs and sexual tension), the self-destructive family member, and the teenager that becomes addicted to a certain kind of drug/behavior. On the speculative front, these vampires are bloodthirsty monsters that abscond morality the second they drink human blood. It’s a family that abstains from human-killing, with a father that is a physician and a mother bent on normalcy, and children that become sexually irresistible as soon as they start indulging in their vampire mind-powers (anyone else’s Twilight bells going off?). Of course, there are differentiating factors, too, and it’s unfair to compare the book to any Meyerisms because it is a very different creature. Although there is teenage love, this is much more of an adult novel, tipping more heavily towards the issues of marital strife, the moral fibers that glue society together, and the love for parents for their children. The relationships that Mr. Haig displays in The Radleys are fraught with tension and the type of melodrama one would expect from a literary novel meant to explicate suburban lifestyle and addiction.
Like the intricate relationships, there are many elements to The Radleys that I truly appreciated. I loved the idea of a blood-drinker’s abstinence bible and its excerpts sprinkled throughout the novel. In fact, “The Abstainer’s Handbook” reminds me of Beetlejuice‘s charmingly ludicrous “Handbook for the Recently Deceased” – really fun stuff. I also appreciated the traditionalist hard-line vampire lore that Mr. Haig ascribes to, painting vampires as predators and monsters that are dangerously sensitive to sunlight, allergic to garlic, mind-controlling seductive bloodsuckers that are basically impossible to kill beyond dismemberment and sharp objects lodged in chest cavities.
That said, I’m not sure that all these disparate parts truly worked together to paint a cohesive whole. While I liked the vampire lore and the attempt to put an incisive spin on family relationships through the supernatural lens, I don’t think The Radleys pulled it off. Although arguably the message of the book is one of accepting one’s true nature, it sits on the unsettling end when juxtaposed against the metaphor for addiction – that is, vampires actually need and can only be happy and function by indulging their addictions. Furthermore, from a more technical (and admittedly nitpicky) standpoint, each of the chapters is written in a terse, three-page-ish length, which felt choppy and disruptive to the nature of the story (but this is personal preference, of course). Ultimately, The Radleys isn’t a bad book – it’s just not the book for me.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Chapter one:
It is a quiet place, especially at night.
Too quiet, you’d be entitled to think, for any kind of monster to live among its pretty, tree-shaded lanes.
Indeed, at three o’clock in the morning in the village of Bishopthorpe, it is easy to believe the lie indulged in by its residents—that it is a place for good and quiet people to live good and quiet lives.
At this hour, the only sounds to be heard are those made by nature itself. The hoot of an owl, the faraway bark of a dog, or, on a breezy night like this one, the wind’s obscure whisper through the sycamore trees. Even if you stood on the main street, right outside the pub or the Hungry Gannet delicatessen, you wouldn’t often hear any traffic or be able to see the abusive graffiti that decorates the former post office (though the word FREAK might just be legible if you strain your eyes).
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Rating: 5 – Meh
Reading Next: Fateful by Claudia Gray
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