three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
51-Mar-Apr-2011
By: 
Matt Haig
user_rating: 
0

A-The RadleysBritish novelist Matt Haig is best known for The Labrador Pact (2005), which imagines that the protagonists in Shakespeare's Henry IV were dogs. The Radleys, his seventh novel, adds to the growing genre of vampire novels.

The Story: The Radleys live quietly in an English suburban town, seemingly a normally dysfunctional family. Yet the parents, Peter and Helen, keep a terrible secret from Clara and Rowan, their weak, anemic, and unpopular teenagers: they are nonpracticing, vegan vampires, guided by the moralistic self-help guide The Abstainer's Handbook. But when Clara is almost date-raped, her fangs come out, she attacks her killer, and the secret's out. Then Peter's brother, a practicing, blood-lusty vampire, arrives to help throw the police off Clara's trail, and the battle between good and evil begins in earnest.
Free Press. 371 pages. $25. ISBN: 9781439194010

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"The genius of novelist Matt Haig's book is that the vampirism takes a back seat--a wet, bloody back seat, but still--to the blackly comic family turmoil that's at the center of the story. ... Haig injects the proceedings with a walloping dose of wit, as when he provides a list of vampires through the ages: Homer, Ovid, Machiavelli, Caravaggio, Nietzsche, Bram Stoker (his anti-vampire propaganda came during his abstinence years), Jimi Hendrix." Joy Tipping

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"[After the secret is learned,] The Radleys then becomes a more philosophical novel about honesty and the perils of identity crisis once the family is up to its neck in trouble. ... Haig's contribution is freshly weird and ultimately thirst-quenching for fans of the genre." Carol Memmott

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It's certainly not the author's fault that many of our brains are muddled with conflicting knowledge of alternate vampire universes--the Cullens glitter prettily in daylight, but the Radleys get rashes; True Blood's poor Bill and Eric have to sleep in coffins or underground, while the Vampire Diaries creatures seem to rarely snooze. It's hard to keep it all straight, which doesn't help the Radleys, charming as they are." Vilkomerson

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"This novel's central moral problem--that blood sucking is exhilarating yet morally wrong, while abstention is virtuous yet tedious and false--is sometimes hammered home all too explicitly and schematically. ... The element of this story that I found most moving, even more than the scary, thrilling, but by now familiar vampire stuff, was a [family betrayal]." Matthew Sharpe

Critical Summary

Despite the saturation of vampire books, television, and movies, the reviews of The Radleys suggest that readers everywhere have not yet tired of these bloodsucking (or, in this case, mostly abstaining) beings. Although each vampire novel differs from the next, critics quickly pointed out that Haig's offering, at heart a family drama, contains some unique elements, including references to vampire pop culture both old and new as well as thoughtful inquiries into the nature of morality and identity. Yet though smart and witty, the novel often overstates its case in its presentation of right and wrong. Still, fans of the genre will rejoice in this new addition to vampire lore--and its planned sequels.