Published Date: September 20, 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Free Press
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Summary: 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.
My Thoughts: I started to read this book in the fall last year. I put it down to get something else done and it got covered up in my disorganized mess of books. When I came across The Radleys while reorganizing my books last month, I thought, “Uh-oh!“. I set this book on my nightstand and as soon as I could, I picked it up and reread it. I must have been in a weird mood last time because this is a witty, smart and satiric book with engaging dialogue. I found this fast-paced, riveting and fun book difficult to put down once I started reading it. I’m very happy I came across The Radleys in my piles of books. It’s a great exception to my rule against vampire books as well as an exceptional book. The only other vampire book I’ve read is Dracula when I was in high school, a very different book than this one!
The Radleys, to the naked eye, seem to be a pretty typical, dysfunctional family. They have some rather odd quirks and idiosyncrasies but they don’t appear any more dysfunctional than the next family. Dad, Peter, is a local and respected doctor and Helen, is a stay-at-home mom, active in various activities. Rowen and Clara, are normal teenagers who attend the local high school. The family has been living in a nice house in the quaint and quiet English village of Bishopthorpe for many years without incident. This is rather remarkable because Peter and Helen have accomplished the amazing feat of hiding the fact that their family, The Radleys, are vampires. Rowen and Clara don’t even know despite feeling very different from their classmates in several ways. They don‘t suspect they are vampires at all. But who would?!
Rowen and Clara’s age and growing independence are causing some major problems related to being vampires. They aren’t aware some of their natural inclinations, many which set them apart from other teenagers, are a result of their being vampires Clara, for instance, upset because animals actually run away in fear when they sense her presence (they do the same with the other family members) insists on eating a vegetarian diet unaware that vampires don’t tolerate vegetables well. Clara is sick to her stomach everyday and very weak. And Rowen suffers frequently from severe insomnia that isn’t helped by handfuls of sleeping pills. He doesn’t know that it’s normal for him, as a vampire, to sleep during the day and play at night. Peter and Helen, as a result, are having an on-going argument about whether or not to tell Rowen and Clara the truth. Adding to this problem is one of the adults, I’m not going to reveal which one, has a secret of their own they’ve kept many years. They fear that revealing they’re vampires will result in the family living as vampires leading to the revelation of this major secret which will upset the family dynamic.
Peter and Helen are too distracted by these issues and some other concerns, many that plague most adults night and day. They, similar to many parents of teenagers, are out of touch with their children and unaware of the concerns and problems of teenagers. Matt Haig creates Peter and Helen as characters many readers can relate to and even identify with since many of us have children. It’s easy to understand and empathize with Peter and Helen’s struggles in raising teenagers even though we’re not familiar with the specific vampire issues. Helen and Peter are far from perfect, too. Helen gets tiresome at times with her worries and her nagging while Peter shows himself to be a selfish jerk , focused on his own needs and desires most of the time. But these flaws make them seem all the more human, interestingly, and more intriguing and real.
Haig also creates likable, relatable characters in Rowen and Clara. It’s easy to understand and empathize with them as they struggle with the problems faced by most teenagers including bullying classmates, relationships and fitting in. Rowen and Clara have the additional problems associated with being teenage vampires to deal with, such as very pale skin, sun-induced rashes, nausea, vomiting, insomnia. It’s enough to send you to bed with the covers over your head, something Rowen considers doing. It’s easy for readers to feel sympathy for them.
Clara soon finds herself in a situation many women, having once been teenagers, can understand and relate to, when she attends a party and has to cope with the unwanted advances of a drunken classmate. We empathize with the position Clara’s in and hope she can extricate herself from it before anything terrible happens. We aren’t prepared for what does happens next and neither is Clara when her identities as a teenager and a vampire combine and the unforeseen and unexpected happens. This occurrence changes everything for The Radleys and, when Clara calls her parents for help, Peter and Helen know they kept their secret too long. Like so many parents, all they want to do now is comfort and protect their little girl. The rest of the book is about keeping Clara safe as well as mitigating the damage. Peter and Helen also wonder about the possibility of incorporating the family’s identity as vampires into their current life. They’re not completely on the same page here, although, since one of them wants to live as a full-fledged vampire and drastically change their lifestyle.
Haig’s writing is scintillating, smart and engagingly clever. One of my favorite parts of the book is the passages from The Abstainer’s Handbook, the self-help bible for vampires trying to live life as regular humans. These ’rules of conduct’ covers issues such as OBT (overwhelming Blood Thirst) and how to deal with an attack of OBT; skin care and coping with daylight and the sun. I also thought it was clever that Byron and several other poets from the Romantic period were vampires. Rowen feels very connected to these poets even before he knows he’s a vampire and Uncle Will is a professor who teaches about the vampire poets. Haig also connects some passages throughout the book to the poetry of these poets in smart ways which I enjoyed. I highly recommend this book to everyone, those who enjoy vampires and those who don’t.
Thank you to Giselle at Simon & Schuster (Free Press ) for a copy of The Radleys and the opportunity to read and review the book.