Tag Archives: Books from the 2010’s

The Radleys, by Matt Haig

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!

My rating:

8 out of 10

The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage, Justin CroninWoman with Sainsbury’s carrier bag on the tube: “I’m baking lemon drizzle cake tonight… it’s the first time I’ve done it.”

Friend: “What you’ve never made lemon drizzle before?!”

Me (silently seething): “SHUT UP!!”

There are few things worse than getting to a gripping point in a book and then somebody else’s conversation invades your thoughts, totally breaking the spell. I suppose that’s what I should expect reading on public transport. I devoured the final few chapters of The Passage at home on the sofa, giving it the attention it deserved – and this book deserves, no demands attention. At nearly 800 large pages it is not a novel to be picked up lightly (excuse the pun). It’s sheer size and epic scope as well as the fact that it is a bit of a page-turner means that it can take over your life for a good few days or weeks depending on how fast you read. I was absorbed to the point that I found it quite frustrating having to put it down to do something else (like go to work).

The Passage is quite a difficult book to sum up without giving away the storyline too much. After all, if you are going to bother reading a massive book then, I imagine that you would like some of it to be a surprise. To be on the safe side I’ll quote the blurb:

“Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she’s the most important person in the whole world.

She is.

Anthony Carter doesn’t think he could ever be in a worse place than death row.

He’s wrong.

FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming.

It is.

THE PASSAGE.”

I will say that it is a book about vampires, although more of the 28 Days Later variety than RPatz in Twilight. It did make me think of how I felt watching the films 28 Days Later and I Am Legend because of the way that the monsters in the book were terrifying, insensible and lacking any obvious humanity, and also because it felt quite cinematic. It doesn’t surprise me that the film rights have been sold to Ridley Scott because I can imagine it translating well to the big-screen.

However, by drawing comparisons to these films I am in danger of selling The Passage short as being unoriginal. If anything it has a very different style to any book I’ve read in a similar genre. The first half of the book sets the scene of the story in-depth, exploring the lives of key characters – Amy, Anthony Carter and agent Wolgast. Cronin creates incredibly well-developed personalities, each with their own quite tragic back story. He takes his time progressing the story, however the writing never feels slow, rather you feel fully immersed in the plot.

There is a quite sharp change in the story about halfway through the book, which I have to admit threw me. Initially I thought it felt a bit disconnected, however once I became used to this (trying not to give anything away!), I soon became absorbed again. I think this break in style is a bit of a gamble, but one that pays off – mainly because Cronin’s storytelling is so strong.

Cronin is a talented novelist. The Passage is really well written. It is a brutal book. It combines vicious bloodthirsty monsters with characters that you really don’t want to be killed off because Cronin makes you like them. He describes people and landscapes with a great deal of skill and moments of everyday beauty and  are offset against which are set against the underlying sense of horror. By the time you finish reading The Passage you really feel as if you have been on an epic journey with the characters. An impressive achievement and a totally absorbing read.

My Rating:

8 out of 10

Thanks to Simon (Savidge Reads) for my now well-thumbed copy. You can read his thoughts here.