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[258] Incendiary – Chris Cleave

“It is Christmas Eve Osama and this morning I decided you were right after all. I mean I’ve been thinking about it a lot what with not having much to do of an evening. Some people are cruel and selfish and the world would be better off without them. You were absolutely right the whole time some people only deserve to burn.” [232]

In an epistolary form, Incendiary is a black comedy about the war on terror and terrorism itself. The narrator is a woman whose husband and four year old son were blown into pieces when suicide bombers blow up the stadium during a soccer game. Kareem is made mad by a world gone mad: what fuels her madness and guilt is her cheating on her husband with Jasper Black, a journalist who writes social commentary. The aftermath of the terrorist attack sweeps her in a concatenation of events—political and sexual—that involve journalists and cops who are opportunistic and selfish.

When you touch me all I can see is that bloody explosion . . . I wish I’d never met you. I loved my husband and my boy but I waved them good-bye and I took you home and had sex with you on the bloody sofa didn’t I. And then my life blew up. [68]

Addressed to Osama bin Laden, the sardonic outcry of the widowed working-class woman does not, however, blame the terrorists. The terrorists bring out the worst and ugliest of humanity, and she has to thank Osama once for all to open her eyes to the truth of the society. The provocative voice, full of ragged and raw emotions, rebukes a selfish and self-indulgent society that is isolated (and ignorant of) from the suffering of the flesh. Cleave’s Orwellian look at the way we live is not only realistic, it also serves as a warning and satire. Like the narrator has noted, while the attack and explosion take place so quickly, the aftermath—the noise, the smell, the memories, and the hallucinations, live long after that it gets under one’s skin.

Before you bombed my boy Osama I always thought an explosion was such a quick thing but now I know better. The flash is over very fast but the fire catches old inside you and the noise never stops . . . The fire keeps on roaring with incredible noise and fury. . . I live in an inferno where you could shiver with . . . [165]

Satire is the measure of Incendiary‘s force. An assertion and a prophecy, Chris Cleave stretches his imagination to an extent that challenges morality. As much as Osama who masterminds the terrorist attack, it is the cruel and selfish people, those who are our own and not of the enemy that is most threatening and evil. A tension-filled dramatic ending and plethora of moral dilemmas sum up to a very emotional read.

237 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


14 Responses

  1. This sounds amazingly raw and fascinating. I will have to keep my eye out for this one! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I have a copy of this, but haven’t got round to reading it yet. I’m really pleased to see that you enjoyed it. Hopefully I’ll get to it in March.

    • I cannot determine which one I like better: Incendiary or Little Bee (The Other Hand). Incendiary is more raw and in-your-face, while Little Bee is less conventional in story telling. They both make me gasp.

  3. That is seriously intense! You don’t see writing THAT raw very often. I bet you were exhausted after reading it!

    • It took me a while to tune into the emotion of the character. I do have to add that Chris Cleave has a talent to write in the voice of a woman.

  4. Wow. Talk about an intense read. I’ll have to add it to my super long list of books to buy and the one day read. Thanks!

  5. This sounds like one I must read and one that will have me thinking about my own world view.

    • While the terrorist attack is very disturbing to read, it’s the aftermath, sort of like a prophecy, that really gets into my skin. It’s, like I say, not the perpetrator of the crime, but law makers, enforcers, and social watchdogs–their selfishness and ignorance that really creeps me out.

  6. I have to admit I havent read this (am soon to start A Single Man) but I am so keen to read all Isherwoods workds after Goodbye To Berlin!

    • I just realised put this in the wrong post comments whoops!!! (Am overtired!) I do want to read this book too as I loved The Other Hand (or Little Bee as its called where you are) am glad this one sounds like its as good. I also want to see the film version of this too.

    • Between Incendiary and The Other Hand, I’m curious which one you like better? 🙂

  7. Simon: I’ll fix your comment. 🙂 I just finished A Meeting By the River—the multiple subtexts of the letters in the book are just awesome and witty.

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