Book Review: ‘The Radleys’ not your usual vampire novel

“The Radleys” (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, $25), by Matt Haig

I know what you’re thinking: “Oh dear, another vampire novel? Yawn.” But there’s something irresistible about “The Radleys,” Matt Haig’s novel about a family of vampires living in a quiet English village.

For one thing, Helen and Peter Radley are non-practicing vampires — they don’t kill humans or animals for blood — and they’re not only raising their teenage children, Rowan and Clara, the same way, but they are also keeping their true nature a secret from them.

(In Haig’s creation, vampires can reproduce the way the humans do, as opposed to conversion by blood-drinking. This is one of several ways the novel flaunts conventional vampire lore.)

Clara and Rowan are miserable, and it’s not just from normal teenage angst or being constantly bullied at school. Rowan, for example, is plagued with rashes due to his ultra-sensitivity to the sun. Clara has opted to go vegan in the hope that it will earn her karmic points with the animals that already flee from her on sight (as they sense her true nature), but it’s having deleterious effects on her health.

When Clara fends off a would-be rapist in a manner that, shall we say, awakens her, Helen and Peter are forced to reveal who and what they all are and to call on Peter’s brother Will — an unapologetic, very-much-practicing vampire — to help cover up Clara’s ... indiscretion.

“The Radleys” is full of clever turns, darkly hilarious spins on what is to many a tired subject. We’re introduced to Will at a convenience store, where he buys wet wipes and dental floss — of course.

Helen and Peter live by “The Abstainer’s Handbook,” passages of which are interspersed throughout the novel. The Handbook preaches repressing one’s instincts and conforming to societal expectations. “We are civilized, and civilization only works if instincts are suppressed,” Helen reminds Peter, quoting from the handbook.

There are a few eye-rolling moments as Haig uses the Radley family as a way of critiquing our collective obsession with appearing normal, when “normality” itself is freakishly unnatural, but mostly he handles this theme with a light satirical touch.

And while the ending doesn’t quite live up to the strength of the story as a whole, stuttering out over a few pages too many, it in no way feels interminable or dull. On the contrary, even if you’re suffering from vampire fatigue, you’ll find “The Radleys” is a fun, fresh contribution to the genre.

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Online:

http://matthaig.com/

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