The Radleys – Matt Haig (Minor Spoilers)

This was recommended to me yesterday by a friend, and I got through most of it last night. I didn’t finish it then, so close though I was, so I could write this fresh from the book, I’m starting to regret this. When I left off the book at 3am, I was so enthusiastic about it. I was in the middle of the climax of the plot and everything was completely amazing. I should have finished it then, when I was thoroughly into it, and just got up and writing. It’s not like I slept anyway. Now, I may have finished it, but the telly is on, showing the run up to the Olympic opening ceremony and I’m just… not as consumed with passion for sharing how wonderful a book it was. I’m clearly fickle like that.

Putting that aside, I’m still going to be enthusing. I /know/ it’s a good book. And a warning now, I’m going to give away a few minor spoilers (I think they may even be on the blurb) that I don’t think someone about to read the book should know (I did, but I reckon the surprise would be fun) but which are kind of necessary to explain the excellence here. So yeah, you’re warned.

(Unrelated note… it’s really hard to concentrate on this when there’s the Red Arrows flying over the Olympic Stadium on the tv just over there… apologies if this turns out quite disjointed).

Right. So. The premise of the book is a quiet suburban family, living in a quiet village, where they moved from London to raise their kids. The front cover even looks like the sort of chick lit’ where that would be the subject matter (cue emotional turmoil and minor disruptions? I don’t know, I don’t read that sort of book). Anyway, right from the start, it starts giving hints that that isn’t the case. Because they’re vampires. And it’s excellent. The hints are a little on the heavy side, so this is hardly a spoiler, really. And they reveal it quite quickly.

Right… well… um… I was going to carry on typing. But then the opening ceremony happened. It was… well… mental.

Ok, back focussed on the book.

So, they’re vampires. And I am a sucker (pun not intended, sorry) for vampires, almost as much as stuff with Greek mythology in it. I mean I used to read Anne Rice novels… so I’ll read almost any trash with them in. Almost. I have not read any of the Twilight books. I do have some standards. Sometimes. And, as vampires go, they’re done pretty well. I won’t go into too much detail, but the author goes some way to creating a plausible sub-culture of vampirism, he explores the mythology quite well, half-explains things in a reasonable, sensible way and general does his best to somehow reconcile the cosy, middle class family and blood-sucking terrors of the night. And it really works, as a melding of ideas. And he also thinks a bit about how society (or rather, the government end of it) would cope with knowing vampires existed, and what they’d do about them. I’m not sure I think the way he puts it is necessarily the most believable outcome, but it does really work, and along the way of thinking it through, you pick up a couple of interesting, amusing and well-thought-out characters and a tiny sense that the author doesn’t really trust the authorities. That might just be me thinking that. Anyway. Oh, and he retcons a load of historical figures into vampirism. Which a lot of people do, admittedly, but his is charmingly un-ambitious, in a lot of ways.

He does fall into the issue of vampirism vs. sexual desire a little way into the book, but he doesn’t make a huge deal out of it the way Rice does, especially in her later books. I won’t go into the angle he takes, as it’s worth leading up to it through Will and Will’s thought processes, but he goes at it from a slightly different position and it makes it less… sordid and horrible. Which is an odd thing to say, for someone who does genuinely enjoy a lot of vampire-related fiction, since the whole biting = penetration = sex thing is a huge part of a lot of vampire stuff, even if it’s only hinted at, but I always get a bit uncomfortable when it gets done too thoroughly. It can be over the top and too overthought and obvious. If the author feels the need to really spell it out as plainly as they sometimes do, it’s probably going to end up feeling both sordid and patronising, which is never nice.

As to the plot, it’s a little slow to start up, but it works its way into being a decent paced, well thought out narrative, and I did spend a lot of the later part of the book genuinely worrying about whether some characters would survive. And I cared. A lot. There are some I really couldn’t bring myself to bother with, I’ll admit (Helen, particularly, while clearly meant to be a very sympathetic, if slightly alien, character, annoys the heck out of me) but there are two characters who particularly stand out as worthy of devotion and care from the reader. I had a massive soft spot for Will, personally, but I can see why Rowan is put forward as a major viewpoint character too, and I did really enjoy reading his parts. The two of them, as well, form a really good contrasting, balanced whole. Peter could have used a bit more development, as the author kept touching on his past, and how he felt about Will and about Helen and about himself, without ever really going into the depth he gave Will. The book didn’t feel particularly long, either, so he could have given him a bit more space without really doing much damage to the plot and pacing. There is a minor story in the background with him, which I thought felt quite unresolved at the end of the book, but he is quite an unresolved, unthinking sort of character, so maybe it’s forgiveable, in his case.

I would definitely recommend this book to most people. I would not tell them that it was about vampires, unless they pressed me for a reason to read it. Part of the reason I love it so much is that it takes some care to pretend to be something else entirely, and no matter who reads it, SFF fans who get sucked into the vampire side or chick-lit readers who picked it up thinking it was something else, it’s nice to think they get a little of the other side out of it. I think some of that gets lost if you go into it knowing it’s about vampires. But even then (I mean, I knew) it is still a good, well-put-together book. It’s not typical vampire fantasy (or horror). It has a good idea, and brings it to a good conclusion, and it’s really worth the £2.69 I spent on it. It was infectious reading, too.

Overall, I think this is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Not quite as good as Johannes Cabal, but definitely better than Stross and the Feyre books, and a hell of a lot better than Jacka’s books, or Pratchett and Baxter’s collaboration, The Long Earth, which I’ve been struggling with for about a week now. I may not remember it in three years time, like my absolute favouritest books. I don’t know if I’ll even read it again. But as a one-off book, read once, it has a real charm and beauty that is worth anyone’s time.

(And, on the subject of Stross, I read the Jennifer Morgue after the Atrocity Archive… which means I /still/ haven’t got to the Reality Dysfunction… I will, I really will one day… just not today, and I’ll post something about the Stross book soon; it has some interesting points).

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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2 Responses to The Radleys – Matt Haig (Minor Spoilers)

  1. Yay, you liked it!

    I imagine stopping at the climax and finishing the book the next day didn’t help … IIRC the ending is pretty swift, wrapping up lots of loose ends in quite a small number of pages so it would probably be rather hard to get back into at that point (even without the distraction of the Olympics).

    I also found Helen pretty unsympathetic. Which I think is interesting because I *do* read that kind of chick lit, and it’s usually the character in her position (adult woman, trying to keep everything together, etc) that I sympathise with most. Maybe I’m giving the author too much credit, but I felt that maybe it was an excellent way of portraying that this false life that she was trying to lead really had washed her out and made her brittle (in a way that I think is not unrealistic for someone who was trying to enforce morality entirely by rules).

    I found Will sympathetic (despite him being the sort of character that I usually would like to slap in the same way as Helen is the sort I usually like). I think that was really well-done, and important to avoid him being marked as the lascivious home-wrecker or something.

  2. Pingback: Some Kind of Fairy Tale – Graham Joyce | A Reader of Else

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