A distraught woman
writes a letter to Osama bin Laden after her four-year-old son and her husband
are killed in a massive suicide bomb attack at a soccer match in London. In an
emotionally raw voice alive with grief, compassion, and startling humor, she
tries to convince Osama to abandon his terror campaign by revealing to him the
desperate sadness"I am a woman built on the wreckage of myself"and the broken
heart of a working-class life blown apart.
But the bombing is only the beginning. While security measures transform London into a virtual occupied territory, the narrator, too, finds herself under siege. At first she gains strength by fighting back, taking a civilian job with the police to aid the antiterrorist effort. But when she becomes involved with an upper-class couple, she is drawn into a psychological maelstrom of guilt, ambition, and cynicism that erodes her faith in the society she's working to defend. And when a new bomb threat sends the city into a deadly panic ("It was a panic like the darkest dream and the more people ran out onto the streets the bigger the panic got like a monster made of human beings") she is pushed to acts of unfathomable desperationperhaps her only chance for survival.
A surreal vision made brilliantly, viscerally powerful and undeniable, Incendiary is a stunning debut novel.
BookBrowse Note: Cleave's novel was published in England on July 7th - the same day that four bombs exploded in London. The UK publisher immediately quieted its publicity machine and took down ads in the London Underground and Cleave posted a note to fans wondering whether he should continue promoting it. The reaction from the USA publisher was quite different, with Knopf ramping up their publicity machine and the initial print run, and offering Cleave as a different kind of commentator on the tragedy saying, "We hear so much from talking heads and security experts, but what Chris brings to life is the real human experience of losing a loved one to an act of violence". The post publication reviews in the UK, which are summarized below (all but PW, Kirkus and Library Journal), are split passionately between people believing it to be a gritty portrayal of modern life and others believing it to be sensationalism. Even the 'timeliness' of the book is coming under criticism, with some pointing out that far from being prescient, the novel is arguably already out-of-date because Cleave portrays a London teetering on the edge of collapse following the bombing - which is patently not what has happened!
As always, you can browse an excerpt and decide for yourself. Also, click the 'Author Interview' link, above or below, to read Cleave's response.
they want you dead or alive so the terror will stop. Well I wouldn't
know about that I mean rock 'n' roll didn't stop when Elvis died on the
khazi it just got worse. Next thing you know there was Sonny & Cher and
Dexys Midnight Runners. I'll come to them later. My point is it's easier
to start these things than to finish them. I suppose you thought of that
There's a reward of 25 million dollars on your head but don't lose sleep on my account Osama. I have no information leading to your arrest or capture. I have no information full effing stop. I'm what you'd call an infidel and my husband called working-class. There is a difference you know. But just supposing I did clap eyes on you. Supposing I saw you driving a Nissan Primera down towards Haggerston and grassed you to the old bill. ...
Cleave's first novel caused considerable controversy when it published in the UK on July 7th 2005 - the same day that four suicide bombers killed 52 people and injured hundreds of others in four separate attacks, three on the London Underground and one on a London bus. Presciently, the campaign for Incendiary included glossy posters on the London Underground showing smoke rising about the skyline and the question, "What if?"
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (419 words).
Cleave's novel was published in England on July 7th 2005 - the same day that four bombs were exploded in London. The UK publisher immediately quieted its publicity machine and took down ads in the London Underground, and Cleave posted a note to fans wondering whether he should continue promoting Incendiary. The reaction from the USA publisher was quite different, with Knopf ramping up their publicity machine and the initial print run, and offering Cleave as a different kind ...
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