Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Radleys, by Matt Haig

There are several versions of the cover of this novel- this one appears to be the only one that makes no references to Vampires.  Normally the cover wouldn't be that big of a deal to me, but I feel like I should point out that the other covers have bats, bleeding necks and the like, but this cover focuses more on the suburban setting, rather than the Vampiric tendencies of the characters. To be honest, if it was the bats/neck cover that I'd seen in a shop I wouldn't have ever bought it. Unless it's Neil Gaiman, vampires and bats are a no, I'm afraid.

Well. The Radleys. It's an interesting take on the recent vampire boom- a family of Abstaining Vampires attempt to blend into an idyllic British village by ignoring their every instinct and doing their best to blend in with the neighbours as much as possible. Mum and Dad (Helen and Peter) have been fighting every day for 20 years to suppress their instincts by having normal jobs, cooking Sunday dinners, making chit chat, attending book group meetings, hosting dinner parties and mowing the lawn. Teenagers Clara and Rowan- pasty, sickly, meek- don't know what they are. They don't like sunlight and they scare animals, but they don't think anything of it.

Haig's writing is at its strongest when he's describing the humdrum mundaneness of life. The routines, the crushing expectations, the keeping up appearances. One part at the beginning really stood out to me- describing the village as a giant costume shop that people must either leave as soon as they can, or buy a costume and pretend to like it for the rest of their lives. He has a real talent for exposing the unseen tragedy in everyday life and for really getting under the skin of his characters- I thought Peter, the upstanding village doctor was done especially well. The way that he struggles to keep his desires under control is brilliantly written and the constant, crushing strain that's placed on his marriage is developed well. The author obviously understands the absurdity of people and their bizarre relationships with each other very well.

However, as skilfully as the novel is written, I'm afraid the story itself was somewhat predictable and a little unappealing. Whilst Haig withheld the fact that the Radleys were vampires the story seemed promising- the mystery and unease that is built up around the house and its inhabitants was very intriguing and very competently written. Once the hedonistic uncle was introduced to the suburban equation and we find out that the family are vampires and everyone decides how they feel about it, it kind of went down hill and got a tad soap-ish. Although as a picture of absurd suburbia that might have been completely intentional, I really don't know.

In summary, I think it's fair to say that as a novel, I did not enjoy this a great deal, but I can't really work out why. I found the plot to be predictable and a concept that was intriguing when it was a mystery, but fell a bit flat when revealed- but that can't be the only reason. I don't think it's written badly though, which is unusual. In fact quite the opposite- the author writes in a way that is easy to relate to and instantly evokes real life, even in the most surreal of scenarios. The characters are well developed; I just found that I didn't really care about any of them. I always think that good writing can conceal a weak plot and no amount of bad writing can do even the world's best plot justice- so even by obeying my own rule I should probably have liked this more. It's by no means a bad novel, in fact it's probably quite a good one, it just isn't the sort of thing that I enjoy reading. That probably doesn't make the best 'review' really, but there's no other way of saying it- A good novel that I see the merits of, but didn't enjoy. I'd recommend it to someone who's a fan of the vampire genre, someone who wants an unusual summer read, to people who like happy endings and dramatic family narratives.

Really looking forward to reading The Humans though.

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