The Radleys live in a lovely, middle-class neighborhood in a quiet village in England, far removed from the hustle and bustle of London. The father, Peter, is a physician, the mother, Helen, stays at home. They have two teen-aged children, a son named Rowan and daughter, Clara.
Scratch the surface, however, and you see that the Radleys are little odd. They keep their blinds closed on sunny days, and they pay someone to tend the yard even though it is tiny. Rowan is weak and picked on mercilessly at school. Clara is mousy, wears glasses, and has only one friend. Even stranger, they eat tons of meat, like it particularly rare, and get ill at even the smell of garlic.
The Radleys appear so strange because they are different: they are vampires. They are what is known as “abstainers” — vampires who give up drinking blood. Yes, vampires in this story can exist without ingesting blood, although it shortens their lifespans (a regular number of years instead of 200) and saps their vitality. They can pass for normal as well, as long as they eat a lot of meat and use strong sunscreen when outdoors. Why adopt such a lifestyle? To live a moral life.
Peter and Helen believe so strongly in abstaining that they have not told their children the truth about what they are. This works well enough until extreme circumstances reveal their true nature. Then the race is on; who or what will win out, the ethical lifestyle or true nature? And will they get caught?
With The Radleys, author Matt Haig provides a fun and thoughtful tour of the vampire life. Delightful elements include the celebrities who turn out to be vampires (Lord Byron, Jimmy Hendrix) and quotes from The Abstainer’s Handbook interspersed among the chapters. It also provides a method to discuss nature vs. nurture and whether love and discipline can overcome baser instincts.