BookBrowse Reviews Incendiary by Chris Cleave

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Incendiary

by Chris Cleave

Incendiary by Chris Cleave
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2005, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2006, 256 pages

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A distraught woman writes a letter to Osama bin Laden. 1st Novel

From the book jacket: A distraught woman writes a letter to Osama bin Laden after her four-year-old son and her husband are killed in a massive (fictional) 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.

Comment: Cleave's first novel caused considerable controversy when it published in the UK last summer on July 7th - by terrible coincidence, 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 (ironically, the campaign for Incendiary included glossy posters on the London Underground showing smoke rising about the skyline and the question, "What if"? - Londoners on the underground that day didn't have to ask, they knew).

The book's publication drew similar controversy when it published in the USA shortly after (for more about this see the sidebar) - as a result the USA post-publication reviews tend to be heavily skewed by personal events, with some apparently losing sight of the book itself.

The reviews below were written before the London bombing and thus, arguably, give a more balanced viewpoint. With regard to one reviewer's comment about the 'London slang' - it's certainly true that Incendiary is written in an informal British working-class style, but I think you'll find that the few words that maybe unfamiliar to you will be perfectly understandable in the context.

'The whole is nicely done, as the protagonist's headlong sentences mimic intelligent illiteracy with accuracy, and her despairingly acidic responses to events - and media versions of them - ring true. But the working-class London slang permeates the book to a distracting degree.' - PW.

'Graphic depictions of violence and gore accompany humorous reflections on life and class differences - an odd combination that makes for strangely compelling reading. Recommended for larger public libraries.' - Library Journal.

'Like David Mitchell's Ghostwritten, Cleave's provocative debut will make readers a little uneasy - and that's okay.' - Kirkus Reviews.

This review was originally published in August 2005, and has been updated for the September 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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