‘Do you really think any of these “normal” human beings really do exactly what they want to all all the time. ‘Course not. It’s just the same. We’re middle-class and we’re British, repression is in our veins.’
It’s easy to see where the idea for The Radleys came from. It’s a what-if story. It’s, well it’s fanfic. Specifically it is AU Twilight fanfic that places its teenaged vampires at high school not in the Pacific, but the Atlantic North-West. Did you think the prospect of attending US media high school for a century sounded like hell? The Radleys have it worse. They aren’t cool. They aren’t talented. They aren’t attractive. Two of them don’t even know that they’re vampires. And most of all, they aren’t happy. These vampires might not be undead, but they certainly aren’t living. Dad Peter isn’t a glamorous surgeon, but a bored GP treating prostate problems and halitosis. Mum Helen’s medical career fell by the wayside. She used to paint violent extravagant nudes, now she paints socially-acceptable pictures of fences*. The parents are desperate to fit in, the children friendless freaks who only wish they were ignored - until the day that newly vegan Clara, trying to make up for the fact that animals seem to hate her, is assaulted by a schoolmate and responds in an entirely unexpected way. Whereupon life gets a lot more complicated.
Like all the best vampire novels, The Radleys, is not really about vampires. What it is about is about what it takes to be a decent human being, with a few swipes at the insularity of a certain type of middle-class life. Once upon a time the parent vampires led a decadent and glorious life of murder, mayhem, music, Montmartre, highly dubious vampire porn**, and all the Anne Rice vampiric fun you could imagine. Until they got morality, guilt and conventionalism and retired to commuter-village North Yorkshire where they follow The Abstainer’s Handbook and lead lives of quiet desperation. It goes quite well, leaving aside the headaches, the non-existent sex life, the need to chuck their copies of Byron, Wuthering Heights, and the complete works of Jimi Hendrix, and the ubiquity of garlic in modern cooking; at least they are being normal. All of which effort goes to pot when Clara discovers a taste of blood and kills her attacker*** and in desperation they turn to Peter’s bad brother Will**** to help them get rid of the body and the police and sort things out so that everything can go back to normal. You can guess how well that’s going to go...
I could go on, but I’d end up writing an essay and giving away all the plot (I am much better at essays than book reviews). So in short, I think that The Radleys is really good. It’s an adult novel about teenagers, and also suitable for older children, but definitely not a Young Adult novel*****. It’s extremely well-written, which is always a pleasure. It is also written in the present tense so I give fair warning to those who hate that. If you do, just get it from the library instead; it is available in 29 languages, so there ought to be a copy somewhere near you.
*Helen is definitely the most complicated character for a number of spoilery reasons that I shall refrain from mentioning. If I were writing this as a 5000 word essay, she’d get 3000 of them.
**‘My Left Fang. That was seriously misjudged.’
***It’s not a spoiler if it’s on the back cover.
****Yes, note the name.
*****I have tried, honest, but I do not do Young Adult books. There is too much sex and violence and teenagers. The Radleys has all three, but in the right proportions. Still, I’d say that 13 may be about the minimum age for the bright child reader in order for them not to throw it aside in horror at the plot strand about the parent characters' sex life.