Monday, October 25, 2010

The Radleys, Matt Haig (The Great Library Challenge author H)

Posted by lea at 4:53 PM
The Radleys appear to be a very normal family living a white picket fence life: Peter the doctor, Helen the artist and their two kids Rowan and Clara, who are rather average if a little intolerant to sunlight, quite pale and somewhat sickly.

Noone suspects that the members of this suburban family are actually vampires - especially not the kids, who don't know themselves, until one night, Clara defends herself against a bully and bites his hand. With her first taste of blood, the Radley secret comes spilling out.

This was my first foray into vampire fiction, and like Clara, I liked it. Matt Haig writes deliberately sparse prose that is free from unnecessary flourish, excess drama or gratuitous violence. There's a certain elegance to the writing, which I imagine is something that sets it apart from modern vampire fiction (think Stephanie Myer).

Peter and Helen are abstainers (vampires who choose not to drink blood), who have turned away from their blood-soaked past for the sake of their children. After seventeen years of cover ups and lies, they are forced to deal with their identity to help their children navigate their way around the background of who they really are. It's a family drama in which vampirism is a suppressed form of life, that once unleashed can't be contained. But more than that, it's about learning to accept oneself, and in a strange way, the acceptance of their vampire identities make them more human.

Though it's not a comedy, there is some humour in the novel, which mostly comes from the account of prominent vampires in the past: Lord Byron, Jimi Hendrix (one vampire school of thought says they're one and the same, Lord Byron simply having adopted a new identity for a new generation), David Bowie, and more obviously, Bram Stoker. Peter's brother Will (an unashamed practising vampire whose entry into the household wreaks havoc) says Prince's musical decline happened when he chose to become an abstainer. LOL

The Radleys is an enjoyable novel, not in the sense that it's fun or funny, but because it's a well written story that, at its core, is about being empowered by being yourself. It's a story that, ironically unlike vampires, has a soul.

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