Friday, November 4, 2011

Review: The Radleys by Matt Haig

Supernatural creatures trying to blend in with “normal humans” is a fairly popular plot device in fiction these days. What makes it fresh in Matt Haig's "The Radleys" is that half the family doesn't know they're keeping a low profile. Actually, they aren't even aware of their supernatural nature.

Though parents Peter and Helen know what they are, they've deliberately kept their children in the dark. Claire and Rowan have always been weak and prone to sickness, due to their inadvertent avoidance of the very thing they don't know they need. An attack on Claire by a drunk, overly amorous classmate sets in motion her and Rowan's discovery of both their true nature and their parents' deception. Haig interweaves this discovery with bits and pieces of back-story that sheds light on their parents' desire to abstain in the first place.

What are they abstaining from? Blood, of course. Similar to that other family of twinkly, Pacific Northwest abstainers, the Radleys act just like their "unblood" neighbors on sleepy Orchard Lane – except when they don't. And when they don't, their violence is spectacular and horrific.

The narrative picks up speed when Peter turns to his alluring, but wantonly cruel, brother Will for help. With Will's presence come new secrets and complications that force Peter and Helen to face the consequences of their long-standing deception.

The Radleys is a philosophical novel about honesty and the perils of identity crisis set against an acute moral conflict. Haig develops each character carefully and brings the narrative to a satisfying, but somewhat sudden, conclusion.

If you have more than a passing interest in the supernatural, but are overwhelmed by the avalanche of current supernatural fiction, pick up The Radleys. It's a well-written novel that won't make you feel empty after you're done reading.

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