I’ve been in a dark little world the last couple of days. Yesterday I watched quirky animated film Coraline (highly recommended) and I’ve also been reading a curious specimen of Young Adult fiction, The Radleys. Why did I find it curious? You’ll just have to read on to find out…
On the surface, The Radleys is a book about a suburban family who have a gruesome secret. A monstrous one in fact – they are vampires. ‘Meh’ I hear you sigh ‘another vampire book’. Well yes and no. Yes it is a book about vampires, but it is a very different treatment of the genre. And I say ‘genre’ but actually because of the setting and central themes of the book I would say that it’s actually much more about family, relationships, and people struggling with forbidden desires. The vampire story is a useful and entertaining plot device.
A bit about the plot. The Radleys are a family of ‘abstaining’ vampires – well Peter and Helen are (Mum and Dad), but their teenage kids Rowan and Clara are at the start of the fact unaware of the fact. They remain in the dark until one day a disturbing event turns their life upside-down.
This is a funny book, full of cultural references and a suburban setting that make you feel that a family of vampires might be living down your street. I enjoyed Haig’s dark humour and his inventive style kept me interested throughout. While The Radleys isn’t difficult to read, it does cover some challenging themes. Right from the outset it is clear that this is no happy family. Mum and Dad are struggling to communicate and the kids are having difficulties at school. Dad doesn’t seem to care about anything (except for flirting with the next door neighbour) and Mum fills her life with endless tasks to distract her from the truth.
This could all be very depressing, but as the story goes on we see the family begin to face some of their secrets and admit the lies they’ve been telling themselves. Haig’s portrait of a family in turmoil is very believable and the underlying ideas about the importance of honesty (with oneself as well as with others) are nicely delivered without being sickly-sweet. Actually this book is anything but sweet as there are plenty of dark moments where blood-lust and sexual feelings are mixed together. Haig conveys cleverly how people struggle every day with ordinary and not so ordinary passions.
My one, very minor concern with this book is that some of the cultural references feel quite UK-focused, so I hope that doesn’t impact how it translates elsewhere. On the other hand it’s a typical suburban situation that should be easily recognised in many westernised countries – and the family experiences that are described should have universal appeal.
According to publisher Canongate (who kindly sent me this copy), the film rights to the book have already been bought by Alfonso Cuaron (director of Y tu mama tambien, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). I can imagine this working really well on the big screen, and The Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite treatment of the Harry Potter films – it’s quite unnerving in parts, so Cuaron’s style would work for a film version of The Radleys. I hope that it doesn’t get lost amongst other vampire themed stories because it is very different.
I was surprised and impressed with The Radleys. It’s an original and funny book which also pushes boundaries and explores how people deal with difficult situations – things that I think are important in Young Adult fiction.
A book with bite!
8 out of 10