Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Radleys

The Radleys is set in a sleepy Yorkshire village where, on the surface, nothing much really happens. However, behind the cosy world of dinner parties, book clubs and Radio 4 the Radleys are masking a secret from not only their neighbours, but their children too; they are abstaining vampires. The family do their best to maintain the facade of middle class normality, denying their instincts for blood in the meantime, until daughter Clara is attacked and their web of secrets begins to unravel.

This should be a fun read, I thought, and an interesting concept. I have generally shied away from vampire books, but Matt Haig's spin on a saturated genre intrigued me. What I soon realised was that to categorise this book early on would be a mistake. This is not a simple satire on middle class suburban life with a bit of vampirism thrown in for a twist. Yes, the story may focus around themes of repression and conformity, but it was also a whole lot more. Clara's attack was a brilliantly shocking scene, instantly shifting this story from satire to horror. The latter half of this novel also had shades of a great thriller, and a real departure from the attempts at everyday family life the early part focused on.

The world Matt Haig created was plausible and the episodic style of narration really helped add the details which made the tale so believable. Children Clara and Rowan's teenage angst and the marital woes of their parents make this story a great generational crossover, as the family struggle to fit into a lifestyle where even the hours they need to be awake present a fundamental challenge. Haig is also brilliant at adding moral shades of grey, portraying vampires as victims of blood addiction, questioning how they can reconcile who they truly are with what they want to be.

Finally, the villain. Uncle Will Radley was a compelling character, his amorality providing a brilliantly alternative perspective to his brother's struggle to deny his instincts and fit in with social norms. I loved his evolution throughout the tale, as family secrets unfurl and the Radleys are forced to choose how to live with what they are and what they have done.

One warning I'd give is admittedly rather silly, given it's about vampires; it is a little gory in parts. As someone who can't watch blood on TV without having to dive behind a cushion until I'm sure it's safe to emerge, I did find myself feeling slightly queasy in some of the more blood-heavy scenes. So if you are squeamish and take this on your journey to work, you may not make friends among your fellow commuters by being that person who takes ill in the carriage and holds up the service. For those with slightly less pathetic tendencies than I, I would definitely recommend this as an interesting, well-flowing read which is more than it seems. Its short, punchy chapters filled with fun, fear and family feuds will see your commute whizz by (and maybe tie your scarf extra tight around your unblood neck - just in case...)

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