A Review of “Incendiary”

IncendiaryIncendiary by Chris Cleave
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Epistolary books aren’t generally my taste, but this one surprised me. As with most books that take me aback, I read this at the suggestion of friends…it was nominated by popular vote in a book club in which I participate. First off, the narrator of the audiobook version adds an amazing amount of depth to the book, even to the point of leading me to pick up on some British humor that I might otherwise not have grasped. The book is a relatively quick read, weighing in at just over 300 pages in paperback, or 8 hours in audio.

And it is funny!

In fact, Cleave is amazingly adept at stepping between dry, witty humor and poignant explorations of loss that leaves the reader wanting to cry. The narrator, during a sexual romp with her lover, loses her husband and son to an al Queda terrorist attack on London. This book is her letter to Osama bin Laden following that attack. As you can see, the premise is humorous from the beginning, and it only gets funnier…and more heartbreaking.

On the surface, this is a gripping story about a woman who has lost everything to a senseless act of terror, and, while traveling a grief-stricken journey to determine who to blame, slowly loses her grip on her sanity. At a deeper level, there is cultural critique here: not just on the barbarity of terrorists, but on the barbarity of the civilized world’s response. As Cleave’s protagonist loses her sanity to grief, the world around her (read: us) loses its sanity to fear. The image of a dark, near-future London with balloons hanging over the city bearing painted images of the dead haunts the reader for some time.

The fascinating development of characters runs even deeper, however. The protagonist’s lover’s girlfriend is nearly a mirror image of our distraught narrator, and the juxtaposition of a woman who loses while holding onto her core values against another version of herself who wins through self-serving, opportunistic means is amazingly well done. This, I think, is what stayed with me the longest from this book.

Incendiary is a quick read that will take you through an emotional journey that is well worth your time. The mirror that this novel holds to a post-September 11 world is provocative, and the conspiracy theorist twist at the end…well, let’s just say that it is all too believable.

View all my reviews

You can purchase Incendiary here.

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