The Radleys by Matt Haig
Review by Floresiensis
Fantasy Book Review Book of the Month, July 2010
Independent publishers Walker Books and Canongate have launched a co-publishing venture aimed at producing bestselling, award-winning books for the next generation of adult readers. Matt Haig, winner of the Nestle Children’s Book Prize Gold Award for his children’s novel Shadow Forest, has written his latest book The Radleys specifically for this enterprise, with the title falling in alongside Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link and Life of Pi by Yann Martel.
Peter, Helen and their teenage children, Clara and Rowan, live in an English town. They are an everyday family, averagely dysfunctional, averagely content. But as their children have yet to find out, the Radleys have a devastating secret; they are, in fact, a family of abstaining vampires...
The Radleys is a refreshing and original take on a vampire genre that has arguably become rather overworked of late, and the book’s main theme of abstinence is perfect for these debt-ridden times. Using short, sharp paragraphs and sprinkled with delightful asides from the fictional Abstainer’s Handbook, The Radleys is a coming of age story that will appeal to adults, both young and old.
The narrative provides a cutting commentary on middle England, and of how keeping up appearances can be held as more important than the enjoyment of life itself. But although there are serious issues explored most of the time Haig is simply having fun, never more so than when listing the famous vampires that have made their mark on history: Jimi Hendrix, Byron, The Rolling Stones and funniest of all, Billy Ocean.
One of Matt Haig’s strengths has always been characterization and his work always shows a sharp observational eye. He has teenagers down to a tee, and this was never more obvious than in this delightful paragraph:
“At lunch break, out on the yard, the pupils of Rosewood Upper are divided, subconsciously, according to gender. The boys are active, playing football or keepie-uppie, or engaged in mock or genuine fights, dead-arming each other or swinging each other around by their bags. The girls talk and sit, either on benches or on the grass, in groups of three or four. When they notice the boys, it is more with confusion or pity than with any fawning admiration, as if they aren’t just separate genders but distinct species. Wise, proud cats licking their paws looking with disdain at the floppy, over excited spaniels and aggressive pit bull terriers seeking to claim territory that can never be theirs.”
The Radleys: Radley Makeover Day
Already delightfully described as a “mix of Buffy and EastEnders”, the overriding message is that moderation is often a better choice than indulgence or abstinence. The Radleys is a highly recommended book for adults of ages, though possibly not one for the Puritans out there.
A film adaptation of The Radleys has already been confirmed, with acclaimed director Alfonso Cuarón (The Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men) set to produce.
Matt Haig was born in 1975. His debut novel, The Last Family in England, was a UK bestseller. The Dead Fathers Club, an update of Hamlet featuring an eleven-year-old boy, and The Possession of Mr. Cave, a horror story about an overprotective father, are being made into films and have been translated into numerous languages. He is also the author of award-winning children's novel Shadow Forest and its sequel The Runaway Troll. Matt has lived in London and Spain and now lives in York with the writer Andrea Semple and their two children.
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