Review Wednesday | Book Review – The Radleys

They talk some more, Will prompting Peter into remembering their early childhood on the barge. How their parents always went that extra mile to make their infancy special, like the time they brought a freshly killed department store Santa Clause home for their midnight Christmas feast.

The Radleys are a pretty average family. Peter, Helen and their two teenagers Clara and Rowan live a fairly normal life – until the local bully tries to assault vegan Clara at a party. Let’s just say she finds her taste for meat.

The plot of The Radleys isn’t particularly original. A family of non-humans trying to fit in to normal society? It’s been done a million times. What Matt Haig brings to the table, however, is a twisted sense of humour and gruesome detail. This book is very funny and immensely enjoyable. The characters, while vampires, are very realistic. The plot appears quite silly, but the book doesn’t read that way – if you don’t have much of a sick sense of humour, I wouldn’t recommend! The Radleys is gruesome and dark, and doesn’t sugar coat the addictive qualities that blood supposedly possesses for the vampires. It’s more than just not drinking it, it’s an addiction that plagues Peter and his brother Will especially.

I think one of my favourite parts of the book are the extracts from ‘The Abstainers’ Handbook’ between chapters. ‘The Abstainers’ Handbook’ is a book owned by Peter and Helen. It is a guide for vampires living without drinking human (or vampire) blood, and provides a lot of the information the reader gets on the vampires’ subculture. It adds a layer to the book that ties everything up wonderfully, and expands the world.

This is the second Matt Haig book I’ve reviewed, the first being Reasons to Stay Alive. This makes Haig the first author I’ve reviewed more than once (although I have written about JK Rowling on several occasions). In Reasons to Stay Alive Haig has a very distinctive voice, and this is still very clear in the Radleys, despite it being fiction and non-biographical. There’s something very real and relatable in his writing style that pulls me in.

Overall, The Radleys is a brilliant magical realist novel, with comedy and heart by the bucketful. I’d definitely recommend this book!

See you soon,

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Review Wednesday | Book Review – The Museum Guard

Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1938. Orphaned at the age of nine by a zeppelin crash, DeFoe Russet grew up in a hotel under the care of his magnetic uncle Edward. Now thirty, DeFoe works with Edward as a guard in Halifax’s three-room Glace Museum. By day, he and his uncle break the silence of the museum with heated conversations that show them to be ‘opposites at life’. By night, DeFoe spends his time trying to keep the affection of Imogen Linny.

[…]

When the Dutch painting ‘Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam’ arrives at the museum, Imogen becomes obsessed and abandons her life in favour of the ennobled one she imagines for its subject – even though being a Jew in Amsterdam is becoming more and more perilous as the clouds of World War 2 begin to gather.

I’ll say it now – this is not a happy book. While there are certainly many warm, happy and even funny moments, the book is overall actually quite unsettling. Much of it is relatable and familiar, and yet as the novel (and time) progresses the threat of war and the larger events of the novel itself loom over the residents of Halifax. Listening to the radio late at night, for example, turns into religious following of Ovid Lamartine, a Canadian reporter in Europe, as he discusses the increasingly dangerous situation in Europe.

The smaller details make this novel what it is. There is a huge amount of drama, heartbreak, betrayal and moral uncertainty in the book – all of which is countered by Norman’s incredible ability to bring the banal to the forefront. DeFoe’s coping mechanism is ironing – scenes of great drama are softened by piles of crumpled laundry. The Museum Guard paints the picture of a world dangerously close to destruction, and yet this isn’t the focus; in fact the novel ends before the war starts. There’s something poetic in this – we are left with the same sense of impending doom that the characters experience throughout the novel.

The way the novel ends and the setting leaves the reader in a very strange position – we cannot feel much hope for the characters, and the novel doesn’t give us any reason to have any; we know what is about to happen to the world in general, and any predictions we can make about the characters are not positive ones.

This is a very short review, I know, but this book really does speak for itself. The plot is incredibly odd, and yet remains real and raw. Norman has honestly left me speechless, and that’s definitely a good thing.

See you soon,

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I couldn’t think of (or be bothered to find) a good gif for this, so I’ll leave you with my favourite quote from the book instead;

Life is full of dramas of the soul’s estrangement and reconciliation.