My BFF is aghast : “You did what ? You read it twice ?? A trashy vampire novel? Surely not! You: the reader who embarks on literary giants like Orhan Pahmuk – he of the 750 page saga of lost love in Istanbul; you’re the reader who read, with great appreciation, Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson’s two linked novels Gilead
and Home. What is this? Some mental aberration? Some winter-gloom inspired descent into the trough of mid-winter blues? You read The Radleys – author Matt Haig – twice, in less than a year? Explain yourself!”
Okay. I will. Not that it is anybody else’s business. And I don’t have to justify my reading habits to anybody else. If I choose to read wildly disparate books that seesaw madly from one end of the literary scale to the other, that’s my business. We all have our little quirks, don’t we? It’s just that mine don’t fall into the chocolate bingeing category, don’t fit neatly into the seventh blue handbag bought because it was such a sale bargain, don’t gel with the ‘only cut your toe nails when its full moon’ school of thought. We all do things our own way. My particular way includes a very eclectic choice of reading material, from the sacred to the profane, and absolutely everything else in between. On my shelves I have earnest Buddhist books, and in another room, safely out of range of contamination’s tendrils, three biographies of Aleister Crowley. But he’s a tall tale for another time. Not today. Today I want to tell you about that fascinating family – The Radleys.
I read this book about a year ago. Devoured it, dare I say. I loved it. I loved the stylish black and white cover. I loved the unusual spin that Matt Haig put on a tired old theme: vampires. Imagine a novel about a family of vampires, Mum, Dad, teenaged boy and girl, living in a quiet country village, deep under cover as normal human beings. They are Abstainers. Vampires who have signed The Pledge, as it were, and don’t drink you-know-what. So this is a What If …… story, that takes off from an interesting departure point. And develops in some very unexpected directions before it ends.
So why did I read it again? I was looking for light relief, an easy read, something which would engage my interest without taxing my eyes or my brain. And this book had blissfully short chapters, sometimes only a page in length. You could say the format was short, bite-sized (sorry – bad pun) chapters. The family characters immediately engage the reader’s sympathy. They suffer so, poor things, deprived of what really would be their life’s blood, if they would only weaken and drink it. But no, they staunchly abstain. There are wonderfully deadpan excerpts from the fictious Abstainer’s Handbook which instructs the abstaining vamp on how to cope with life’s little difficulties (Factor 60 sunblock, for instance). These useful hints, tips and sermons are sprinkled throughout the text and provide a sober counterpoint to the increasingly dramatic action that is building towards the end of the book. Which has everything, I must tell you, from tender, innocent first love, school bullying, betrayal, amoral relatives, obsessed victims seeking vengeance from previous slayings, and the climax is pure Greek tragedy.
Oh, go on … read it …. you know you want to ….. just a page … it can’t hurt … you won’t get hooked , or bewitched …. not much , not at first …..
Actually, I turned to The Radleys in sheer exhaustion after slogging through some of the 668 pages of teeny-tiny print from Sarah Bradford, on the topic of (King) George VI. What a relief to abandon those long, detailed, meticulously researched accounts of matters of State, World War II events, dissolute Royal relatives, scheming American women, abdicating brothers, labyrinthine family connections throughout European royalty, Queen Victoria and her vast brood of children, (how anybody can possibly map out a comprehensive Family Tree of that lot is beyond me, you would need a tablecloth sized piece of paper to do it justice); Palace etiquette, Royal courtiers, the weight of history and tradition. It’s an exhaustive – and exhausting – account of King George VI. Trust me, just go to the movies and see The King’s Speech. You’ll actually enjoy that. Sarah Bradford’s book is definitely one for students of the British monarchy and/or history enthusiasts. And whilst I have boundless admiration for HM Queen Elizabeth II, I am not in those categories. Now can you see why I re-read The Radleys?