Thursday, January 6, 2011

Merrily, Merrily, Merrily, Merrily? The Radleys by Matt Haig

The Radleys--father Peter, mother Helen, teenage son Rowan and daughter Clara--are an ordinary suburban family. They live a quiet life on a quiet street in a quiet town called Bishopthorpe. The family car is a nondescript SUV--not too flashy, not too dull. Peter's a doctor, Helen a housewife. Their house is decorated with muted colors, the artwork on their walls consists of soothing watercolors of pastoral scenes, and they have just the right books--that is to say, the books that their neighbors read--on the bookshelves.

But all is not perfectly dull in the Radley household. Peter and Helen worry about Carla. She's recently become a vegetarian and, in addition to having her complexion transition from pale to stark white, has begun vomiting fairly regularly throughout the day. She became a vegetarian to try to convince animals to like her; for some reason, the neighborhood dogs bark and snarl when she comes near, and it distresses her terribly. And Rowan, reader of Byron and writer of bad poetry, worries his parents, too. He has no friends, never sleeps, and suffers from photodermatitis.

You see, the Radleys, like many apparently normal suburban families, have a secret, one which Peter and Helen have kept even from their children. They are vampires. Nonpracticing vampires--abstainers, in the lingo--but vampires nonetheless. The Radleys' marriage is a mixed one; Peter is an hereditary vampire, Helen converted. The paleness, the photosensitivity, the sleeplessness: all symptoms of their abstinence.


Recently, Peter has begun to chafe at all the rules. The children are growing up and he feels they should know what they are. Helen disagrees. Peter begins to think longingly of the pulsing vein in his attractive neighbor's neck.


But then a real crisis comes. In a desperate attempt to seem normal and fit in with the other kids Clara has gone to a party. As she is walking home from the party a brutish boy accosts her and tries to have his way with her. In her struggle with him she bites his hand...she tastes his blood...and the jig is up.

In their attempt to erase the completely understandable murder their daughter has committed the Radleys call Will, Peter's older brother and active practicer (according to The Abstainer's Handbook, an excerpt from which precedes each chapter, a practicer is a "practicing vampire; a blood addict who is unable and/or unwilling to give up his immoral habit"), to help them. Unfortunately, Will is a creature without a conscience, who lives for the kill and harbors an eternal desire for  his brother's wife.

Matt Haig's book The Dead Fathers Club, a retelling of Hamlet with a possibly mentally ill eleven year old boy cast in the lead role, was a tour de force. It was a disturbing story, told in an impressive and spot-on child's voice, complete with misheard words and phrases and odd punctuation and capitalization. In this book Haig also captures a voice, although it's a more subtle, even mundane voice. He does an excellent job; this may be the least exciting vampire novel ever written, but this is not to say it's a boring book. He understands his characters, he understands the middle class to which they painfully aspire, and when all hell breaks loose toward the end of the book it's a glorious, beautifully written and very bloody mess. 


These are not the glittery vampires that mesmerized Bella in the Twilight books. They're not Anne Rice's romantic vampires. They're your next door neighbor. Your doctor. The mom who helps out by picking your kids up from soccer practice every other Saturday.

Didn't you always think there was something up with those people?




Disclosure: In accordance with new FTC guidelines for bloggers I must let you know that I received a free review copy of this title.  My reviews are just that: reviews.  They are not endorsements, nor am I ever compensated for posting my opinion. 

4 comments:

Sam said...

Great review, it's made me want to go out and get the book! I love vampire stories but can't stand teenage paranormal romance so this one sounds perfect for me.

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