The Radleys

Try as they might, the Radley family can’t quite be normal. On the surface, everything looks ordinary enough. They live in a perfect home on a quiet street in a pleasant village. Husband Peter is a doctor, and wife Helen stays home with the kids. Sure, Rowan, their son, has some skin problems that make it hard for him to stay in the sun. And daughter Clara’s recent turn to veganism has caused her to feel weak all the time. These things can be dealt with, as long as their secret remains hidden.

You see, the titular family in Matt Haig’s novel is actually a family of abstaining vampires. With the help of The Abstainer’s Handbook, a guide to life without drinking blood, Peter and Helen have built what looks like a typical family life. They’ve done such a good job, in fact, that Rowan and Clara aren’t even aware of their true natures. But circumstances conspire to force Peter and Helen to reveal their secret to their children, and all four of the Radleys must decide what path they are going to take.

This book, which I first learned about on Annabel’s blog, is quite a lot of fun. The vampire world that Haig has created includes its own vocabulary (unbloods for ordinary humans, OBT for Overwhelming Blood Thirst), its own cultural background, and its own heroes. I got a chuckle out of many of the names of vampires who gained fame in the unblood world. Some (Machiavelli, Lord Byron) were obvious, but how about Bram Stoker, who eventually became an abstainer and wrote anti-vampire propaganda? Or Douglas Sirk, believed to be the source of the term sirker, for abstaining vampires who long to lapse? It’s not subtle humor, but it brought a smile to my face just the same.

The story itself is well-constructed. It’s not generally filled with major shocks and thrilling twists, although the story does take a few clever turns that I didn’t fully expect. There’s conflict aplenty, both external and internal. There’s a murder, a cover-up, a police investigation, and some dark secrets from the past. The chapters are very short (sometimes just a page or two), as Haig shifts from one character to another. Sometimes short chapters like this can make a book feel choppy, but I didn’t find that to be true here. Mostly, it just accentuated how quickly the story unfolded.

The abstaining vampire concept is not entirely new, but I really enjoyed the way Haig spun it into a book that is as much as riff on the modern suburban angst novel as it is a clever take on the vampire myth. Vampirism is frequently used metaphorically, to represent illicit or uncontrollable desires; and Haig milks that metaphor like crazy. There’s vampirism as adulterous desire, vampirism as teen sexual awakening, vampirism as violent urges. For each member of the family, vampirism means something just a little different. And at the core of the book is the idea that every seemingly normal family is abnormal in its way. Peter and Helen Radley have bought into the myth of a normal family, and such an existence is not possible for them, for obvious reasons. But is it possible for anyone? Sometimes Haig pushes the metaphors a little too hard, but I really didn’t mind. I liked the characters, and this was such a quick read that I never had the chance to feel like Haig was hammering the points into my head.

Put simply, The Radleys is a good fun book, with just the right blend of comedy, thrills, and human insight to awaken my own OBT (Overwhelming Book Thirst).

Other Bloggers’ Views: Novel Insights, Gaskella

This entry was posted in Contemporary, Fiction, Speculative Fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to The Radleys

  1. chasing bawa says:

    I read some good reviews of this book from other blogs previously but it sort of slipped through my mind. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it and I think I may too. So thank you for bringing it back to my attention. Is it weird that I find it comforting to read vampire fiction???

  2. Juxtabook says:

    Another one I have OBT to acquire!

  3. gaskella says:

    I loved it – glad you enjoyed it too Teresa, and thanks for the link. It was marketed as a crossover novel in the UK with a teen cover and adult one – which may explain the relatively(!) low gore/sex amount.

    Haig has a good line in quirky fiction, and I’d also recommend his book The last family in England which is about a family disintegrating, but told through the eyes of their beloved Labrador. Again he uses excerpts from the Rules for Dogs to break up the family story, and manages to be both hilarious and sad.

    • Teresa says:

      As far as I can tell, it’s only being marketed as adult fiction here. Maybe the UK slang would be a harder sell for US teens?

      I’ll have to look into his other books. I don’t think he’s at all well-known over here. A dog narrator could go either way with me, but the idea of quotes from Rules for Dogs makes me smile :)

  4. I got a copy of this in the mail, and you’re making it sound really good. I may have to work it in!

  5. Steph says:

    Oh, so glad to hear you enjoyed this one! I snagged an ARC of this one just before 2010 finished, so I am looking forward to reading it at some point this year! Normally I don’t really care for vampire stories (certainly don’t get the Twilight hype), but this one just seemed so fun I decided I need to give it a try.

    • Teresa says:

      This is definitely not Twilight-esque. Probably closer to Whedon-esque; there’s a similar mix of quirky comedy and human(vamp?) interest. (Though I don’t want to raise your hopes too much with that comparison. Haig is no Joss Whedon, just similar in sensibility, I think.)

  6. Aarti says:

    Wow, I TOTALLY thought this book was about Boo Radley’s family from To Kill a Mockingbird. Er, totally wrong, I see! I think I may steer clear as I am not huge on vampires (abstaining or not), though I’m glad you had fun with it!

    • Teresa says:

      I understand that Haig was giving a hat tip to Boo Radley by naming the family the Radleys–think pale outsiders. But definitely not about that family!

  7. Kathleen says:

    I thought I was over the whole vampire thing but this book seems to deal with it in a fresh, new way. I’m adding this to my list to give it a try.

    • Teresa says:

      It’s definitely different from the norm. It could just about be read as an ordinary family story, it’s just that this family’s problem is more unusual (and bloody).

  8. novelinsights says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed this Teresa! I felt the same as you – very enjoyable and the right blend of humour and human insight.

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