Review: The Radleys by Matt Haig

The Radleys by Matt Haig book cover
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.

Useful Links
Reviews of The Radleys on Amazon (UK)
Reviews of The Radleys on Amazon (US) 
Matt Haig's Website


bibliofreak said...

Incidentally, I forgot to check out a little thing that was niggling at me before I returned the book to my local library, if anyone can help I'd appreciate it.

I have a feeling that somewhere in the book it mentions the Abstainer's Handbook was published in the 1980s, but in one of the sections it mentions checking your e-mails as a good distraction from blood lusts. I think the quotes are from the second edition so maybe that was published post popularization of e-mail, but if anyone has a copy and can clear this up I'd be interested.

A daft and meaningless point, but it's now stuck in my head. Have I made the whole thing up? Possibly. Am I a pedantic twit? Almost certainly.

(By the way, it's not real - I know)

Rachel @ ChaosIsAFriendOfMine said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. I didn't know there was a movie of the Radleys in the works - I'm looking forward to that too. I hope it's cast better than Interview With a Vampire!

I checked my book out of the library too so I'm not sure about your Abstainers Handbook question.

Leeswammes said...

I did think the book was original - I read it a while ago so I'm not quite sure about it all now. But for instance, the setting, an existing place in England, Bishopsthorpe, where the Radleys live a quiet life until certain events change it all.

I liked also that the regional police was aware of the existence of vampires and had their own ways of dealing with them.

Otherwise, I can't quite remember, but I loved the book... a lot!

bibliofreak said...

Rachel, no problem. I love reading other peoples thoughts about the books I'm reading. The movie is currently in the hands of Alfonso Cuarón I believe so it could be one to look out for, I can definitely see it translating well to the big screen.

Leeswammes, I think there is a certain novelty to the fact that the novel is very British, in the same way that you feel more connected to the story when watching something like Hot Fuzz than you do a big budget American comedy. I do think though, that there are plenty of vampire novels about abstainers or those trying to repress their natural instincts, one only need look at Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. The Radleys is quirky and fun, but not as original as a lot of reviewers are making out.

Incidentally, as a footnote, I mentioned that many of the ideas are derivative. Normally when reviewers make this point I think it's lazy because nearly all art is derivative, and originality comes by small turns. However, the reason I raised it here is simply because originality was pointed to in nearly every review I read and although The Radleys is fun I just can't read it as seeringly original.

bibliofreak said...


Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

"I remember reading similar stories of abstinence and domestic vampires as a child."
Perhaps this is why we have differing opinions on this book? I hadn't read anything like this before, but can see why it would have less impact if I'd had.

I'd also disagree that it is predictible - I had a vague idea how it might end, but there were so many twists along the way that the end result didn't really matter. Perhaps I benefitted from not being a big vampire fan and so most things were original to me?

bibliofreak said...

Yes, it could be. I'm not a big vampire buff, but I suppose the fact that I'd already enjoyed quirky takes on the genre took the edge of The Radleys a bit for me.

When I say predictable I don't necessarily mean it as a criticism, more in the sense that when you watch a Rom-Com everything is laid out before you and it's pretty clear where it's all going to end, the fun is getting there.

Julie @ Knitting and Sundries said...

I linked your review to mine. I definitely enjoyed it as a rather irreverent, lighthearted romp!

bibliofreak said...

Thanks very much Julie, that's really kind. Just had a flick through your blog - looks great!

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Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

I'm glad you are enjoying it. Thanks for the compliment :)

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