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The Radleys - Matt Haig

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Author: Matt Haig / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 13 June 2011 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd / Title: The Radleys / ISBN 13: 9781847678614 / ISBN 10: 1847678614 / Alternative EAN: 9781847678607

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

    6 Reviews
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      06.09.2011 18:08
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      Is there a vampire living in YOUR street?

      The whole fad for anything regarding vampires has, I must admit, passed me by. "Twilight" remains a mystery to me (no doubt helped by my daughter's complete disinterest in the franchise) and I have generally found vampires to be about as interesting as watching wet paint turn dry.

      Regular readers of my book reviews will know I am a huge fan of Sainsburys' offer of two books for £7 and it's through this offer that I encountered "The Radleys". There's not very much on the cover to suggest this is a book about vampires - except, I suppose, if you are au fait with the workings of vampires - and I only knew it was about blood sucking antics due to reviews I had read of the book in the past.

      The cover for the paperback shows a decidedly suburban house surrounded by flowers which is as far removed from most vampire book covers as you can get. There isn't a whiff of black or blood to be seen - unlike the picture provided here.

      ==The Plot==

      The Radleys are a middle class family living in Bishopthorpe, a suburban village outside York. Everything about the family appears to be solidly middle class and middle of the road, from their people carrier, their dinner parties and their insistence on turning on Radio 4 every morning during breakfast. Dad Peter is a GP, mum Helen looks after their home and paints pictures and religiously attends the local book club.

      Not all is as it seems however and their teenage children Rowan and Clara are berated at school and called "freaks" due to their inability to stay out in daylight without factor 60 sunscreen, their painful rashes and other malaises; which are blithely explained away as vitamin deficiencies by their father.

      It's not until Clara is pursued by one of her brother's tormentors and she fights him off that she realises she has something of a taste for blood and making up for a lifetime of going without leads to consequences which turn the whole family's life upside down.

      ==My Thoughts==

      "The Radleys" is a very enjoyable read - certainly I have to applaud Matt Haig's very easy to read prose which is both gripping and hugely descriptive. What it isn't is surprising and the blurb on the back of the book suggesting the book is "twisty" is a bit misleading as Haig makes no attempt to hide where the story is going and certainly I picked up on how people were connected and how this would affect the story fairly quickly.

      I can forgive Haig this because what he writes is so well observed and so funny that the end result is hugely enjoyable. I read the book almost in an entire sitting which is a rarity for me.

      Haig has some very well drawn characters in the book and the Radley family is wonderfully executed. When the book begins they are all "abstainers", meaning they do not drink blood at all. They are also desperate to blend in so for Peter and Helen extreme willpower is required whereas for an unknowing Clara and Rowan ridicule awaits them at school.

      Once the children learn the truth the story really gets going, with the arrival of Peter's brother Will adding a fully active vampire to the cast of characters. Will is a louche, morally bankrupt man and his arrival is supposed to help the situation following Clara's first taste of blood but instead complicates matters further. Haig draws a character which is perfectly summated in a line Will quotes himself from Jean Genet, asserting "anyone who hasn't experienced the ecstasy of betrayal knows nothing about ecstasy at all".

      There isn't much that's sympathetic about Will's character but there's still something rather likeable about him, even when you are reading about his murderous antics with his teeth. I am thinking much of this is down to the black humour Haig has liberally injected into the story - and it has to be said much of the humour is as black as can be. There is, however, much humour to be had from the juxtaposition of a family of vampires desperately trying to repress their urges and blend in to a distinctly middle class area. This is wonderfully summed up by Rowan, who proclaims "we're middle class and we're British. Repression is in our veins".

      Haig also includes excerpts in the book from the family's bible, "The Abstainer's Handbook" and these also add humour to the proceedings, along with acting as a portent for what is to come. I actually like how Haig uses this book as a plot device too.

      This wonderful blend of the ordinary and the extraordinary works very well and it has to be said that although the book is clearly a fantasy, Haig captures middle class British family life in a richly realistic manner in amongst the almost stereotypically clashing police inspectors and some gleeful poking of fun at the modern policing system which claims to try to work with sub sections of society and attempt to understand them.

      Obviously in a book about vampires there is rather a lot of talk of blood and from necessity there's rather a lot of gore. If reading about sinew, tendon and exposed organs is likely to cause offence, then the book may not be for you.

      I have to say that I was able to see past all that and really enjoy this book which works well as a fantasy, a comic novel and also as an observant and satirical view of the British middle classes. Put simply, I recommend it.

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        23.08.2011 17:34
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        nice twist on vampires

        I'd gotten quite into the whole vampire thing lately, and enjoyed books such as Twilight, the True Blood series and the Morganville Vampire series as well as a couple of others. I was informed that this was a bit of vampire book with a twist, and looking at the cover it didn't even look like it was a vampire book - this was just the picture of suburbia looking quite nice instead of dark foreboding cover!

        The Radleys is a new take on the vampire genre because it revolves around vampires living in suburbia (think Desperate Housewives), a tiny town in England near the seaside. Everyone knows everyone, or so they think! Their neighbours think The Radleys are perfectly normal, bar the odd quirk. The man is a doctor so he is a trusted member of the community. Little do they know that he actually lusts after their blood, Peter and Helen Radley have given up blood and are abstaining. Their carefully constructed lies fall apart when the vampire gene awakes in their daughter and she goes on a killing spree.

        This was a very enjoyable book, it was a nice change and written fairly differently from most vampire books that I have read. The chapters are only 2 or 3 pages long each, and they are split into sections by the day - the whole novel takes place over a couple of days so its therefore quite a fast paced read especially towards the end, you definitely had to keep up! They were quite a relatable family and made being a vampire a lot less romanticised.

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          14.10.2010 17:31
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          Peter, Helen, Clara and Rowan are a small family living in the suburbs with a quite deadly SECRET.

          Matt Haig is one of my favourite authors in a while. I haven't been able to get into a good book for ages now and have tried many different books, Authors and Genres. But if you like the idea of Vampires who accidentally kill someone and are churned into a big pit of miss fortune then really do read this book. The Radleys are a anything but normal family living with normal people. But THEY are not normal.

          This Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Vampire book is a great laugh to read and is very easy to get into. A book that is maybe appropriate from 12 to any other age as it's very funny but does have a VERY dark side to this novel. The main characters are; Clara Radley, Helen Radley, Rowan Radley and Peter Radley. They live in the suburbs. They class their selves as a normal family but they are NOT normal in anyway shape or form.

          I'd give this book 10/10 because it is VERY gripping and hard to put down. If I were looking for a new book I'd follow in Matt Haig's footsteps!

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            14.08.2010 22:53
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            A great, well-written story

            This is the story of Peter and Helen Radley, and their teenage children, Rowan and Clara. The kids have never been able to fit in at school and are constantly feeling ill, with insomnia, headaches and nausea. Clara decides to become vegan in an attempt to get animals to like her (they normally avoid her like the plague) but she ends up becoming even more ill. One night, a boy from her school tries to attack her but she is so overcome with rage and blood lust that she ends up violently killing him. It is at this point that their parents must reveal the truth to Clara and Rowan - they are a family of vampires who have made the choice to live among humans and give up drinking blood. It is this decision not to drink blood that has always made them so ill, and why Clara became so ill when she gave up eating meat. Then Peter's brother, Will, arrives on the scene to help deal with the aftermath of Clara's slip up. However, Will brings with him even more secrets that could break apart the Radley family.

            My impression of The Radleys is that it is, first and foremost, about repression. Peter and Helen have set up a home amongst other middle class families and try to fill their time with 'normal' activities in order to fit in with everybody else around them, such as work, reading groups etc. But neither of them are happy with their lives and they spend a lot of time reminiscing about when they were 'practising vampires'. They are always watching everything they say and do in order to keep the truth about their family a secret. Even to the extent that they have not told their children what they really are. This leads to a lot of strain on the relationship between Peter and Helen, and they don't really seem to love each other any more. This feeling of repression leads to a rather sad feeling throughout the book, with most of the characters feeling unhappy with their lives.

            The characters are all keeping a lot of secrets and this made The Radleys a very intriguing read. The author takes his time in revealing these secrets to the reader, meaning that we are taken on a journey through the twists and turns of the story along with the other characters. This all leads to a brilliant ending, with the suspense starting to build up during the last quarter of the book moving towards a conclusion that I just didn't see coming. And to top it all off, there is a nice happy ending - I love happy endings!

            This is the first book that I have read by Matt Haig and I must say that I really enjoyed it. He writes in a style that is incredibly easy to read, with very short sentences and chapters that make it very easy to speed through the book. Although it is being aimed at a Young Adult audience, I think it would also appeal to adults (in fact, there is so much swearing in the book that I'm not sure it would be suitable for younger teens).

            The story is told from many different characters' viewpoints but this does not become confusing at all. In fact it gives much more life to the story being told as you are able to see how each character feels about the events unfolding. If you are a fan of vampire fiction I would definitely recommend this book.

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            29.07.2010 10:49
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            A fantastic take on vampires

            The Radleys by Matt Haig was published in July 2010 by Walker Canongate who were so nice to send me a copy for review. It is 352 pages long and available on Amazon for around £6 with a RRP of £10.

            At 17 Orchard Lane, Bishopthorpe, Yorkshire lives the Radleys. The Radleys are your average 2.4 family who are dysfunctional and argumentative... but only on the outside. Peter, Helen and their teenage children, Rowan and Clara are vampires (although the kids don't actually know this). The Radleys aren't your usual kind of vampires though, they are abstainers who do everything possible to live a normal, human life.

            One night, events spin out of control for Clara who unknowingly makes a huge mistake. Peter and Helen are forced to confess to their children about who and what they really are and what Clara's actions could mean for the family. As Rowan and Clara come to terms with the real reason why they always have to wear sun block and why no one in the family likes garlic, a higher power is at work behind the scenes. The arrival of Uncle Will threatens everything that Peter and Helen have worked to achieve, leaving their future in a cloud of uncertainty.

            What I thought
            Having heard so many good things about this book, I couldn't wait to read a different take on a vampire story. I had quite high expectations but The Radleys didn't let me down at all!

            This is a book that without its great characters, would probably be a flop. Each member of the Radley family has their own clear personality that makes them stand out against each other. I really liked the fact that everyone was so different but also the fact that despite this, they were still so much like a real family inclusive of their every day problems. There is no main character either as each family member has a significant part to play in the story. The idea of abstainers is one that I enjoyed and it is completely different to how the Cullens from Twilight operate. Throughout the book, we get to read extracts from 'The Abstainer's Handbook' and I loved these parts. They really made it possible to understand what the Radleys were going through and who they were trying to be.

            Poor Rowan is pretty much an outcast at school and would be completely if it wasn't for his sister and her friend Eve (who he is very much obsessed with). He's lucky if he can get a solid 2 hours of a sleep a night and can usually be seen covered in a red rash because of his allergy to the sun. I felt really sorry for Rowan, being a teenage boy who seemed to have nothing going for him. It's clear that it takes a lot for him to actually get on the bus everyday to go to school as he knows what is waiting for him. The bullies never really let up on Rowan and are determined to make his life hell every single day. Rowan really hates his life and unfortunately, I would too if I were him.

            Clara is determined to be a vegan, no matter how much her parents protest. She thinks they just don't understand why she doesn't want to eat meat and save the animals when really, they know that not eating meat is really bad for her health. When Clara begins to get sick, she doesn't understand why she wants to throw up all of the time or why she feels so weak and refuses to believe her dad, the doctor, that it is all really because she isn't eating meat. Clara is a very determined teenager and that was something that I really enjoyed about her character. She's feisty and knows her own mind very well and was someone that I could connect with. Without the whole vampire part of course!

            Matt Haig has done a fantastic job with these teenagers and makes them seem so real, vampires parts included. Nothing about them ever felt false or forced and I loved the fact that they came over as completely English. Sometimes in a book the characters' backgrounds can be very nondescript but here, you cant mistake the fact that they are English. Rowan and Clara also make great siblings, acting exactly like you would imagine a brother and sister would.

            As parents, Peter and Helen couldn't be more different. Helen's back story is such a huge part of the plot and I ended up feeling sorry for her at points but also wanting to slap her. As a young woman, she made some terrible decisions that affected her whole life and they have now come back to bite her (pardon the pun). The way she feels about these mistakes has a huge impact on her relationship with Peter. He is a doctor and being a vampire makes his job pretty uncomfortable at times. Peter knows that there is something wrong with his marriage but doesn't know why Helen is so distant and uncaring.

            The arrival of Peter's brother Will completely shakes up the story and makes it even more interesting. The fact that he is a bad man isn't sugar coated at all and even though I should have completely hated him, his disturbing charm slightly won me over. When he arrives at the family home, he does everything he can to mess with their minds and make them want to believe in the way that he lives his life. Will is the complete opposite to Peter and has never wanted to abstain. He has way too much fun being a vampire the old fashioned way.

            Each chapter tells a part of the story from one of the family's point of view but also from a couple of their neighbours. The fact that we got to see what people were thinking on the outside made this book different to anything that I had read before. Due to the way this story is told, you really get to see the whole picture and how certain actions and decisions can affect more than one person.

            The Radleys wasn't what I was expecting at all but in an extremely good way. What I found was a very interesting story with a lot of dark and mysterious aspects and one that is slyly humourous. This family sucked me in and got a hold on me that didn't give. This vampire story will be unlike anything you have read before and one that you should give a chance, even if you aren't into vampires.

            Forget Forks. Bishopthorpe is the new town for vegetarians!

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              20.07.2010 23:32
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              A great read, even if you don't like vampire novels!

              Speaking as someone who cannot find any interest or enthusiasm for the currently popular Twilight/Vampire phenonomen, it seems strange that I found myself reading this new novel about a family of vampires by Matt Haig and perhaps stranger still was the fact that I actually enjoyed reading it!

              Meet The Radleys.

              Peter, Helen and their teenage children, Rowan and Clara, live in an English town. They are an everyday family. Averagely dysfunctional and averagely content. But as Rowan and Clara have yet to find out, the Radleys have a devastating secret...

              From the start of the book, it is obvious all is not right in the lives of the Radley family and it quickly becomes clear that Peter and Helen are abstaining vampires and their teenage children have no idea about any of this!
              Although Rowan and Clara lead normal lives and are unaware they are vampires, they do wonder why they often feel ill and weak and have to cover up with high protection sun block when outside during the day.

              Whilst Clara has a close friend and seems to mix with others, Rowan is a bit of a loner and his classmates see him as a bit of a freak. Their parents believe they can all live a 'normal' life, abstaining from being vampires, even though it is not easy. And as for Rowan and Clara, well they don't need to know the truth about who they are. Whilst Helen struggles to keep a sense of normality to hold the family together, Peter, who is a GP, is on hand to offer believable explanations for Rowan and Clara's sensitive skin and feelings of nausea and weakness by telling them they suffer from 'Photodermatosis'.

              However, you just know that eventually something will happen and the Radleys will be forced to stop denying who and what they really are. And of course it is a massive shock for Rowan and Clara as they are all thown into the world of blood lust and their lives become a bigger struggle than before, when a local boy's body is washed up on the beach looking like it has been ravished by something inhuman.

              I think what held my interest in The Radleys was the fact that the story features a family of 'abstainers' desperately trying to lead a normal life and blend in well with their neighbours and surroundings.
              A prominent feature in Peter and Helen's life to help them with all this is The Abstainers Handbook, which features often in the story and contains little gems such as: "If blood is the answer, then you are asking the wrong question" as well as plenty of advice on what to do to prevent succumbing to the urges that are never too far away and other useful tips, such as how to look after your skin, ie : eat plenty of carrots!

              I felt a lot of sympathy for Rowan and Clara and the confusion they feel as they both try to come to terms with who and what they really are. The author describes their feelings and emotions really well. Rowan seems a sensitive lad, but Clara is quite headstrong and they both have different feelings and thoughts.
              Matt Haig manages to combine their teenage emotions very well and a good example of this is as Peter tries to explain to Rowan they didn't want to hurt him and being a vampire isn't as weird as he may think. As he points out that they have reflections, you can't help but feel for Rowan as he asks what is the point of having a reflection when he doesn't know who he is anymore?

              It is also hard not to feel sympathy for Helen too. She was converted to being a vampire years ago when young and in love and seems to have deeply regretted her decision. She also has a dark secret herself and things become a lot clearer when it is revealed.

              Out of all The Radleys, Peter seems the most unconvincing as an abstainer. He certainly seems to struggle the most with his inner desires which are always simmering just below the surface, threatening to take over.
              Things are not helped either by the appearance of his brother Will, who has never abstained and enjoys toying with the family's emotions, particularly Helen's. He is a flamboyant and interesting character who is getting more and more careless as the years go by.

              We also read of the neighbours and friends thoughts about the Radley family. It would seem at first that nobody is at all suspicious of them, except for cruel teenagers who think Rowan is a freak, but even then, they have no idea who he really is. It only takes one thing to happen though and the ensuing events see people's perceptions begin to change. What would it take for you to suspect a family of vampires were living next door?

              The Radleys was an easy book to get into and has great readability. Even if you are not into vampire novels as such, you may still find this a good read as it offers a different slant on this genre.
              The character development is brilliant and Haig makes them interesting enough to ensure you care about them and thus get you hooked on wanting to know what will become of them.

              The Radleys is a portrait of an extraordinary family who have ordinary emotions and explores what we gain and what we ultimately lose, if we deny who we really are.
              I was surprised just how much I enjoyed it!

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