Book Review by Molly Lundquist
Matt Haig, 2011
It turns out that vampires really wish to live among us, in peace. At least some do...and those who do follow The Abstainer's Handbook—a self-help manual for "blood addicts" trying to control their urges. So...meet the Radleys, a seemingly ordinary suburban English family. Mom and Dad follow the handbook to a T, actually, to a fault—which we, and they, learn as events unfold.
Parents, Peter and Helen, have never informed their two teenaged children that they're a family of vampires. Poor Clara, an animal-rights champion, subsists on a vegan diet, only to walk around in a state of nausea. Her brother, Rowan, breaks out in body rashes, leading classmates to taunt him as "Robin red-breast." The two are dweebs—unable to sleep, allergic to sun, slouchy, self-conscious and, as their peers point out..."weird." On top of everything else, animals hate them. The siblings sense they're different but have no idea why.
Then, of course, something happens and everything changes.
At heart The Radleys is a vampire tale wrapped in a coming-of-age story, wrapped in a dysfunctional-family drama. Or maybe it's the other way around. No matter. Ultimately, the novel has to do with imposing personal restraints at the expense of joy and spontaneity, a restraint called for in The Abstainer's Handbook that betrays one's deepest yearnings and sense of self. All in order to fit in. Where is there balance? Is balance even possible?
The book's great fun is in its terrific gags, one-liners, clever allusions. In lieu of human flesh & blood, for instance, abstainers eat bram (yes, as in Stoker), an acronym for "blood resisters' animal meat." In his youth, Peter's band called themselves the Hemo Goblins. A medical poster warns vacationers to southern climes of malaria: "ONE BITE IS ALL IT TAKES." This is the funny stuff underlying the serious issues of love, loyalty, and identity.
If you're not into vampires...this is your book. And if you are into vampires...this is still your book. I loved it...and recommend it as a book club read—for it's meaty issues and quirky humor.
See our Reading Guide for The Radleys.
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