Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Repression and Bloody-Mindedness

Review: The Radleys by Matt Haig


Matt Haig tells us right up front that "vampire" is "a provocative word, wrapped in too many clichés and girly novels." But for the very middle-class British Radleys, with their two children, the cliché is their life in hiding, a colorless droning buzz of hunger repressed and desires denied.

Rowan Radley is an anemic teen with skin rashes, yearning for the courage to talk to his sister's friend Eva. Clara Radley's walls are covered with "Save the Whales" posters; she is a vegetarian whose only friend is the new girl at school, a beauty who she senses will probably not speak to her any more once she is fully accepted by the other students. 

Helen and Dr. Peter Radley are helpless to assist their children to fit in, any more than they can assimilate themselves. They are too busy hiding their nature, not only from the neighbors, but also from their children. They are Abstainers: vampires who refuse to drink blood.

Despite years of residence in their quiet community, all four Radleys are simply existing day-to-day. Suffering, in a blunted, relentless way.

Everyone represses everything. Do you think any of these "normal" human beings really do exactly what they want to do all the time? 'Course not. It's just the same. We're middle-class and we're British. Repression is in our veins.

In a single brutal event at an overnight party, Clara will open the gates for all of the Radleys to revert to their true nature. And the advent of Uncle Will, a long-practising blood-drinker with the power to cloud men's minds, will at first seem a blessing. He can help them divert the attention of the police.

It is another unsolved mystery in a world full of unsolved mysteries. Now stand up and walk out the way you came, and the moment that fresh air caresses your face, you will realize that that is what makes the world so beautiful. All those unsolved mysteries. And you won't ever want to interfere with that beauty again.

As always, though, when long-held feelings are repressed, they eventually burst forth with explosive power. The secrets the Radleys have been hiding go far beyond blood-drinking. And when they are no longer suppressed, the results will change the Radleys and everyone involved with them irrevocably.

It's an intense novel, about much more than the girly cliché of vampire romance. This story is about living the life you were born to live, rather than the one defined for you by society. It's worth the read.

That is what the taste of blood does. It takes away the gap between thought and action. To think is to do. There is no unlived life inside you as the air speeds past your body, as you look down at the dreary villages and market towns...