Review of The Radleys by Matt Haig

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This intriguing take on vamps is one of the selections of More 4’s TV Book Club 2011. Although, I had to grit my teeth as Jo Brand et al hastily assured us with much eye rolling and disgust-gurning that initially the vampire aspect had them all terribly worried, as who’d be caught dead reading anything with vampires? I think Jo even shuddered… But once the unedifying spectacle of such literary snobbery was put to one side and our plucky panel actually picked up the damn book – surprise, surprise, they all loved it…

theradleysLife with the Radleys: Radio 4, dinner parties with the Bishopthorpe neighbours and self denial. Loads of self denial. But all hell is about to break loose. When teenage daughter Clare gets attacked on the way home from a party, she and her brother Rowan finally discover why they can’t sleep, can’t eat a Thai salad without fear of asphyxiation and can’t go outside unless they’re smothered in Factor 50.  With a visit from their lethally louche uncle Will and an increasingly suspicious police force, life in Bishopthorpe is about to change. Drastically.

Sookie Stackhouse it ain’t. Haig manages to encapsulate the sheer predictable dreariness of British middle class life for local G.P. Peter Radley and his stressed wife Helen. Meanwhile, Clare and Rowan struggle not to get bullied at the local comprehensive for being prone to headaches, skin rashes and feeling constantly sick in the sunshine. As Jo was at pains to emphasise – the vampirism of the Radley family is a cipher for any kind of difference within a community. Or not. I don’t really care.

What I do know, is that the writing is aptly sharp with a thread of black humour running through the book. Haig’s descriptions are vividly arresting, as the gripping storyline keeps the pages turning until you reach the end. If you wish to regard the vampires as some kind of extended metaphor because your literary friends will look down their pointy noses at you if you don’t, then by all means go ahead. I don’t get the feeling that Haig was sweating over such distinctions all that much – he was too busy having fun with wicked, wicked uncle Will, while peeling back the hypocrisies and misunderstandings of daily life, highlighted in stark relief as the protagonists stumble through their days and nights in the grip of a terrible addiction. The extracts from The Abstainer’s Handbook are funny and poignant. The ending is very well executed, providing a really satisfying conclusion to this dark edged drama and nicely tying up any trailing ends.

All in all, reluctant though I am to find myself agreeing with Jo Brand – this, after all, is the woman who claims 1984 is her favourite book, while professing to hate science fiction as a genre – I found The Radleys a highly entertaining, darkly enjoyable read.
9/10

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