Incendiary by Chris Cleave – review by Ares Gualtieri

“Dear Osama 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.”

We enter in the head of a young East End woman who as just lost her husband and four year old son in a suicide bomb attack at the Emirates stadium during the derby between Chelsea and Arsenal. The bomb explodes at the moment she is having an orgasm while fucking her neighbour on her couch. An extreme start to what in all ways is an extremely violent and mind-blowing experience. She decides to write her story to Osama, because she wants to be the last mother in the world writing a letter about her dead boy. The book makes you experience her feelings of loss, mourning, anger, guilt, depression and sometimes she seems crazy, but a lot of people surrounding her seem quite crazy too. In a way the world has gone crazy.

This is the debut of author Chris Cleave (1973). He probably wrote it imagining how it would be if something similar to  9/11 would happen to London. What a creepy coincidence that the book was released on July 7th, 2005, the same day of the London Subway bombings.

Chris Cleave has studied Psychology at Oxford, this explains his capability to identify with this woman, he tells the story from the first-person view, he even speaks in her cockney accent.

The title Incendiary carries a lot of messages, as it refers to both the bomb and the instigator, but also to the burning city, her anger and her “burning” mind.

The moment she is confronted with the event of the explosion, she tries to get to the stadium as quick as possible. In the chaos she gets injured so bad that she spends the next eight weeks in a hospital. She is desperate to know what has happened exactly, so the moment she leaves the hospital she visits her husband’s boss, for whom she ends up working: The beginning of a search: How to survive loss, what did happen and why did it happen? The plot changes often and unexpectedly, the pace is fast, there is always suspense and tension. That makes the book easy to read. The description of the events is very vivid; as if you are in a movie, you can really feel how it would be if you would be in the heart of a kind of apocalypse.

At times her irrational behaviour and crazy desperation become too much. Some of the situations are too unlikely to be realistic, while the book is written in such a realistic style. It is maybe because of this that they already have made a movie of it. The word clitoris is used more than 200 times(no not really but still a lot!), it’s definitely extreme, and a reoccurring motive that got slightly useless after a while.

Incendiary is a striking book you definitely haven’t read before. It’s full of action, a direct sense of humour and never a dull moment.


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