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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]

Reading Personality & Chris Cleave

I’m fulfilling my jury duty today, which actually only involved checking in with the clerk at the assembly room and informing them of my teaching duty at Berkeley. The teaching entails that I have to be excused from jury duty in the event of a prolonged trial. I wrote part of this post while I was waiting at the juror’s room, where the city and county of San Francisco thoughtfully provides free wifi.

One of the ARCs in line is Little Bee by Chris Cleave. The book is inspired by the author’s own experience—he went to a concentration camp by mistake. As a student at Oxford University he’d take any paid work during the vacation, so one morning he climbed into a minibus with some other casual laborers, destination unknown. The minibus dropped him into a crush of agitated people, pleading with him in half the languages on earth. Despair and confusion reigned. I’m looking forward to reading it.

I also want to introduce his debut novel, Incendiary, which was published in 2006 and has been adapted into a feature film. It won a 2006 Somerset Maugham Award (tell-tale sign of a must read). When a massive suicide bomb explodes at a London soccer match a woman loses both her four-year-old son and her husband. But the bombing is only the beginning. In a voice alive with grief, compassion, and startling humor, Incendiary is a stunning debut of one ordinary life blown apart by terror.

According to Bookbrowse quiz my responses show that I am both a serial reader and an eclectic reader, which indicates that I both read widely and frequently.

“As a serial reader you’re loyal to your favorite authors, but as an eclectic reader you’re also open to new ideas and new writers, and are not wedded to a particular genre. That you manage to both keep up with your favorite authors and explore new writers indicates that you are likely to be what the research companies like to term a heavy reader.”

Curious now? Find out about your reading personality.