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Friday, January 28, 2011

Matt Haig: "The Radleys"

Author: Matt Haig
Title: The Radleys 
Plot Type: UF 
Ratings: V-5; S-3; H-4
Publisher: Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster (2010)
     If you begin with Ann Rice's VAMPIRE CHRONICLES, mix in a bit of Stephen King's Carrie, and move it all to present-day, suburban England, you'll have the essential elements of this terrific black comedy. The Radley family is a typical, if slightly dysfunctional, family living in a small Yorkshire village. The parents (Peter and Helen) have grown apart over the years, and their children are facing somewhat typical teen-age problems: Rowan is being bullied at school, and Clara is, seemingly, suffering from anorexia. But all is not as it seems. In actual fact, the Radleys are abstainers, the official term in this world for vampires who do not drink blood. Peter and Helen have kept this secret from their kids, who suffer photophobia, sun-related skin rashes, daytime exhaustion, and nighttime insomnia without knowing the cause of their suffering. The reason Clara keeps vomiting is not anorexia; it's because she's trying to be a veganan impossibility for a blood addict (i.e., vampirea politically incorrect term in this world). 

     As the story opens, the Radleys' patched-together life begins to unravel one Friday night when Clara is attacked by a drunken teen-aged lout, and her true nature comes violently to the surface. Peter and Helen are now faced with covering up the crime, so Peter contacts his brother, Will, a practicer (i.e., a blood drinker) who is very skilled at blood minding the unbloods (taking control of human minds). But with Will comes all of Peter and Helen's past: their own years of blood drinking and another secretan intimate connection between Helen and Will. The reader is given the role of voyeur in the many short chapters: eavesdropping on private conversations, listening to extremely personal reminisces, and discovering everyone's secrets.
     Haig named the eponymous family after that "pale-faced, misunderstood suburban outsider," Boo Radley, from To Kill a Mockingbird.  
     Haig includes a glossary of terms at the end of the book. Throughout the story, he presents a series of pertinent quotations from The Abstainer's Handbook, a self-help guide for abstainers who are having problems with their tendencies toward blood addiction. Click on the title in the previous sentence for an on-line edition of the book.
     Here's an explanation for the two different covers: The Radleys was published in the UK in two editions—same content but different cover art: the picket-fence cover for the adult edition and the red-house cover (my favorite) for the YA (teen) edition. The picket-fence cover is being used in the U.S., where The Radleys is being marketed to adults. The book has been optioned for a BBC movie, and Haig has at least one sequel in the planning stages. 
     I highly recommend this book to those readers who are looking for a great story, unforgettable characters, and a fresh approach to the vampire mythos.
     One last thing: In at least two places, a character mentions consuming Night Nurse on a sleepless night. Click HERE for an explanation of that term.

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