The Radleys by Matt Haig
Don’t let the next sentences turn you off this book, for I thought it was brilliantly original and I loved it. It is being given the full crossover novel treatment with a young adult edition, however I firmly believe that it is an adult book (pictured) that teens will enjoy rather than the other way around. It also features vampires…
Matt Haig is an expert at subverting normal family life in his novels. His tragicomedy The Last Family in England, (published as ‘The Labrador pact’ in the US), told the story of a family in freefall from the PoV of the family dog – who sees everything and understands more (and less) than you’d expect, and is in turns very funny and terribly sad.
In The Radleys he takes another very different look at family life. Peter, a rather world-weary doctor, and his frustrated artist wife Helen, live in a Yorkshire town with their teenaged children, Clara and Rowan. To all outward purposes they are a totally normal dysfunctional family, but Peter and Helen have a big secret – they’re vampires, and what’s more, their children don’t know! However the Radleys are ‘abstainers’ – non-practising vampires; since their children were born, they’ve been models of restraint, relying on a diet full of red meat, but now they’re up against teenagers with hormones, and Clara is trying to become a Vegan…
‘I’m worried about Clara,’ Helen says, handing Peter his lunchbox. ‘She’s only been vegan a week and she’s clearly getting ill. What if it triggers something?’
He has hardly heard her. He is just staring downwards, contemplating the dark chaos inside his briefcase. ‘There’s so much flaming crap in here.’
‘Peter, I’m worried about Clara.’
Peter puts two pens in the bin. ‘I’m worried about her. I’m very worried about her. But it’s not like I’m allowed to offer a solution, is it?’
Helen shakes her head. ‘Not this, Peter. Not now. This is serious. I just wish we could try and be adult about this. I want to know what you think we should do.’
He sighs. ‘I think we should tell her the truth.’
He takes a deep breath of the stifling kitchen air. ‘I think it is the right time to tell the children.’
However before they get round to it, something happens that will rock this family to the bottom of its foundations and everything changes.
While there is plenty of dark comedy in this novel, there is also blood – gallons of it. At the heart of the story however is the family, with the parents in the grip of mid-life crises and the children coming of age, tricky at the best of times, and not helped by the arrival of Will, Peter’s vampire brother. Also running throughout the book are extracts from the non-practising vampire self-help manual ‘The Abstainer’s Handbook’, which is like a twelve-step programme for bloodsuckers. Blood is the drug, and this makes the vampire hunters the equivalent of the drug squad and junkies’ families.
This book is a brilliant take on all the pressures upon modern suburban families. It’s dark, it’s funny, it’s wildly original; it was also easy to read and I loved it. If you’ve been suffering from vampire fatigue, this could be the antidote, and you’ll always wonder what your neighbours are up to! (9/10) I requested this book from the publisher – thank you to Canongate.