'The Radleys' - Book Review

The Radleys
by Matt Haig
HarperCollins, 341p.

After I read The Humans by Matt Haig, I thought I should read some more of his work. Being a librarian, I immediately placed a hold on The Midnight Library (2020). Being a fan of fantasy, I also placed a hold on The Radleys (2010), which arrived first as it's older and no longer as popular.

"The Radleys" are a family of vampires, mother, father, son and daughter, who live in a tiny British town. They're abstainers, and the children (at the ages of 15 and 17 or thereabouts) don't even know they're vampires - although they have trouble sleeping at night, have a garlic allergy, and have to wear very strong sunblock all the time.

The book spends a lot of time milking the absurdity of vampires (knowing and unknowing) living in suburbia, as well as showing the pressures of conformity on the parents (expectations of fitting in, gossip) and the children (bullying in school). It then expands outward to a wider view of the world - the husband's charming but amoral and emotionally abusive brother they've kept out of their lives for over a decade, the vampire scene in Manchester, the secret police unit set up to deal with vampires - while always keeping the Radleys at the centre of the story. There's a traumatic event at about the one-third mark, but majority of the action is in the last quarter of the book.

I was seriously irritated to find this statement on page 260 (I've changed names and articles to reduce spoilers.): "she pictures her friend with a crossbow through their heart." This is a lot like saying "she pictured her friend with a gun through their heart." The crossbow is the weapon, just as the gun is. The thing that goes through the heart is the projectile - a bullet or a "crossbow bolt." For someone who understands that, reading the sentence leaves you with a mental image of a large piece of weaponry embedded in someone's chest, which really breaks the poignancy the author was going for. Yes, it's a small thing, and maybe the only bad use of the language Haig made in the entire book, but it really stuck in my mind.

I found the conceit of vampires in suburbia mildly amusing, but too drawn-out for the concept. The ending also felt somewhat unjustified. The Humans was better constructed and more appealing.

SPOILER ALERT: don't read this if you haven't read the book, etc. I was bothered by Haig's moral solution to the problem of vampirism: drinking vampire blood seems morally okay until you stop and think about the implications. The vampires that are being bled to produce the bottles of "VB" must still be drinking human blood within the structure of Haig's book, meaning that he hasn't solved the moral problem, only shifted it and pretended everything is good.