Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Radleys by Matt Haig

No werewolves in sight...
To review this book, another long-held and seldom contemplated work brought to the forefront of the consciousness by the persistent presence of the author on some micro-blogging site or other, without first making clear a disclaimer for said review would be unjust, and I'm just the sort of chap to be completely unjust, just for the sake of it. And also for the cheap laughs. Therefore, before continuing, I must state the following:

1.    This book has teenage vampires in it
2.    It is also ostensibly a book for teenagers
3.    The author of this book writes other books for teenagers
4.    I made a mistake in reading this book

Number 4 could well do with a quick explanation. I regret nothing, except that I appear to have wilfully disregarded the majority of publicity that I had read both about the book and the author, and was at first surprised by numbers 1 to 3, and then disappointed that I hadn't remembered that I already knew all this.

And yet I persevered! I don’t just give up because my brain malfunctioned, oh no! And what I found on continuing to read was a slick, televisual teenage novel about things like growing up feeling different, fitting in, power without responsibility, and love, lots of foamy, churning, eye-watering teenage love. And vampires.

So, the premise is that vampires (no sparkly-skinned, mouth-open, wooden acting nonsense here no siree bob) are real, live alongside humans in places like Manchester, and are gently policed by a sinister shadow society that makes sure blood is available for the thirsty and murderous rampages are a thing of the past, in close collaboration with the Unnamed Predator Unit of the Greater Manchester Police. However, the eponymous family of vampires (sorry, unavoidable spoiler here but after two pages I’m pretty sure it would have become obvious even to a thirteen year old) has a naughty uncle called Will who carries on regardless. When the thirst hits the daughter and she [CENSORED FOR YOUNGER READERS] Pete “Vampire Papa” Radley calls on him to come sort it out. Cue all sorts of family discord and complications.

There’s lots going on, and in an adult novel I think could have been developed more fully into something deeper, darker and naughtier. However, not having read a novel for a teenage audience since I was about 10 (Lord of the Rings doesn’t count - I don’t think a teenager would sit still long enough to get clear of the terrifyingly dull first 100 pages these days so it can rest easy in the adult beardy weirdo genre*) it was still surprisingly deep, dark and naughty. I certainly won’t be recommending it to my 2 year old anytime soon. Nonetheless, it lacked sophistication, from my jaded world-weary point of view, and plot twists were clearly signposted for a younger audience, rendering it less satisfying. But then I can’t remember being a teenager (those years are nebulous and mystifying – certainly a possible side-effect of heavy drinking towards the end there) so perhaps I would have lapped it up.

To give credit where it’s due, it’s a good, flowing read, and conjures images to mind almost like it was written for television. Thankfully it also steers clear of the turgid tripe of those other vampire novels (I blame Anne Rice) and is pretty well believable. But whether verisimilitude is a sought-after quality in fantasy horror for teens is another matter. You may decide for yourself.


*I probably do beardy weirdoes a disservice, for would that I was able to grow a beard I too would probably sport one and thus become a weirdo myself. However, I don’t so they are fair game.

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