The Radleys (2010) is a suburban vampire story, describing a repressed family of abstainers. Peter and Helen Radley gave up blood drinking before the birth of their two, now teenage, children, Clara and Rowan, who have no idea that they are vampires. Life for the Radleys is self-conscious, boring, and often difficult as they suppress their blood urges and deal with the withdrawal symptoms whilst trying to blend into middle England. It’s not until Clara is attacked by a drunken, young thug and her instinct takes over that things get interesting. Secrets are revealed and Peter’s charismatic brother, and practising vampire, Will, is summoned to help clear up the situation. From here the novel follows the Radleys as they deal with their new shared knowledge, whilst trying to protect Clara from the consequences of her actions and stop anymore family secrets from slipping out.
As with almost all vampire novels abstinence and repression of desire are central to the story. Many reviewers have commented on The Radleys originality and quirky take on the genre, but there is little evidence for this – many of the ideas are derivative and very little of the novel breaks new ground. However, the internal morality is worth noting. None of the characters are shown to suffer ill consequences for murdering or giving into their vampiric urges, in fact quite the opposite. This is either an ironic inverting of the traditional message of salvation through abstinence and a comment on consumerism and desire, or an uninhibited indulgence.
Matt Haig’s writing is easy to read and the chapters are very short, bouncing, as they do, between narrative perspectives. As a book that was released simultaneously as a YA and adult offering, all the characters are given fair opportunity to express their viewpoint, which provides a balance between the teenage and adult voices. Haig has been quoted as saying that he wrote The Radleys as both a novel and a screenplay simultaneously, and this shows in the snappy and light prose. Much of the dialogue and environment is also anglicised, which proves refreshing and adds an extra level of relevance for the British reader. Structurally the novel is fairly simple; with all the characters and main themes introduced the plot is predictable and plays out as one would expect. There are moments of humour, but these often lack incisiveness and are not greatly innovative. Reference to the secret vampiric lives of historical figures, Byron in particular, is an amiable nod to Tom Holland, and there are a number of similar genre acknowledgements within the text.
The Radleys is fun, insubstantial, and contemporary. The plot is predictable, many of the central relationships are unbelievable or have moments of implausibility, and the writing is nothing extraordinary, yet there is still enough to keep one interested. The novel lacks any enduring quality, as Haig himself acknowledges by including a string of technological references that will age the work almost immediately. In sum it is ephemeral froth, but fun.
I'm not a big devourer of vampire fiction, but I found this fun and would recommend it as a light read. I may have missed the point but I don't see anything particularly original in The Radleys, I remember reading similar stories of abstinence and domestic vampires as a child. Overall, enjoyable, but easily forgotten.