Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I’m a total fan of Matt Haig, whether it be fiction or nonfiction. How to Stop Time remains one of my favorite ever novels, so it’s always with great joy that I discover an unread book by this author (although I have to admit that in this instance it wasn’t via my local Bookshop, but rather Amazon. I know… I know….).
The Radleys is an older book, published in 2010, and follows on from that period of time when many of us (myself not included) were vampire obsessed. Who can forget the success of Stephanie Meyer, that started with Twilight and then seemed to go on and on, as more books were written and films were made? What’s funny about this book is that it has none of the glamour that we have come to associate with vampires; no smouldering looks, no fantastic homes, heaving bosoms, nor wistful glances. Nowhere in this book does anyone turn into a bat or befriend a werewolf, let’s just be completely clear about that.
The Radleys is set in northern, suburban England in a small village next to Thirsk. It’s a mundane setting and, just to be clear for my American readers, Thirsk is no thriving metropolis by anyone’s standards. The Radleys are a family of vampires, trying desperately to hide what they are. They live where they do, as a middle class family, with all the usual problems and trimmings that brings. Peter and Helen are bored in their lives, but have decided that it is best to abstain from the ‘usual’ vampire life and quietly raise their children. Peter is the local doctor and Helen a housewife. Dinner parties and book clubs are the norm in their day to day lives, as are feelings of boredom, loneliness and frustration. Their children, Clara and Rowan, struggle to understand why they don’t fit in, having assumed that they are ‘normal’. One night, things take a surprising turn for Clara, and it becomes very clear to both kids how they are different. The arrival of their charismatic and yet somewhat sleazy uncle, Will, adds a whole other dynamic to family life, as the secrets come out.
Reading The Radleys was easy enough, but I didn’t love it in the way I had Haig’s other books. As much as the hook for this book is vampires, really the themes are those of most middle aged, middle class families; raising children, dissatisfaction with your lot in life, frustrated dreams etc. If I’d come to this first I might not have reached for other novels by the same author. It’s hard to say if that’s because of the book, which is of course well written, or whether because all these years down the line, I’m simply jaded by the concept of vampires altogether. According to Haig, in the author’s note at the end, the vampire myth keeps coming around. Hopefully now, another ten years on, it’s vanishing again to be replaced by? Well, I guess the answer to that is superheroes.
Maybe it’s time to start on the graphic novels?