It’s no surprise that Alfonso Cuarón has signed on to direct the motion picture version of The Radleys.
Matt Haig’s twisted take on a family of vampires living in British suburbia is redolent of the “co-existence with normal neighbors humor in the early books of the “Harry Potter” saga (including “The Prisoner of Azkaban”, of which Cuarón directed the film version).
But will the movie give us this thought from inside Will Radley’s head?
(from Page 306 in the U.K. novel version)
“I am Lord Byron.
I am Caravaggio.
I am Jimi Hendrix.
I am every bloodsucking descendent of Cain who ever breathed this planet’s air.
I am the truth.”
Lines like the above are why movies will never replace written words’ power to put you inside their characters’ heads.
The basic plot: Peter and Helen Radley live a “normal” life in Bishopthorpe, their adolescent children Clara and Rowan unaware of their vampire status until Clara is turned by an unexpected event. Her brother Rowan then realizes he is the “freak” his taunting enemies have made him out to be.
Then the family has to deal with Peter’s nomadic brother, Will. A chap “allergic to responsibility,” and a fair bit more than just the Radley children’s “eccentric uncle.”
“The Radleys” has been marketed for both adult and young adult readers, but many lines seem to aim for the “firmly adult” audience, such as (from Page 90, U.K. novel version):
“Or even the Stones, when the vampire was still with them.”
A bullseye for those of us who feel the Rolling Stones were never the same after Brian Jones left, maybe less so for young adults who may not “get” the above in-joke without the help of Google, Wikipedia, and/or their grandparents.
That said, the anguish Clara and Rowan feel about their new lives will resonate powerfully with readers in every age group. Peter and Helen’s realistically depicted marriage is a nice counterpoint to the typical paranormal romance sagas where companionship is seen only through rose-colored glasses.
There is a great twist concerning Helen Radley’s past. Her brother-in-law Will, however, turns out exactly as any decently astute reader would expect him to. I was left wanting a little bit of a twist for Will, and this didn’t occur.
Other than this minor quibble, I give “The Radleys” four-and-a-half stars out of five. Light on gore, heavy on characters’ heartfelt emotions and filled with Matt Haig’s wicked, sardonic sense of humor. I can recommend this novel for those who don’t usually like to read “vampire” novels. This is a novel I wouldn’t mind having written myself, although I would have had to make a few changes to pass our Southwest Critique Group’s strict standards.
Special thanks to Canongate Books U.K. for making this review possible!