Robert Beveridge's Reviews > Incendiary

Incendiary by Chris Cleave
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Jan 23, 08

bookshelves: finished, cuy-co-pub-lib
Read in January, 2008

Chris Cleave, Incendiary (Knopf, 2005)

Dear Osama,

With these two words, Chris Cleave kicks off his powerful novel Incendiary, and you know it's not going to be something you've seen before. And indeed it is not. The entire thing is written by the unnamed protagonist in a letter to Osama bin-Laden after al-Qaeda bombed a stadium during a big match, taking the lives of her husband and son. She tries to make a go of life afterwards, but while she never explicitly asks the question, it's embedded in every word: how does one regain one's own sanity when the entire world has gone crazy?

The first, and perhaps biggest, thing to note here is that, as it's written as a letter, the entire book is in the voice of the protagonist, who is not terribly well-educated and eschews the use of commas. Twenty-five pages into this book, I was sure I was going to offer it up as a sacrifice to the gods of reading by lighting it on fire and tossing it into a random trash can, but I got used to the narrative style pretty quickly after that. Once you've fallen into the rhythm of the prose, the story itself is gripping-- our narrator is trying to get on with her life, just as England is, and the two are often compared to one another between the lines as a measuring stick, making sure we've got the idea in the back of our heads that the end of the book is a given. (And Cleave doesn't fail us, though we don't get exactly what we think we're going to.) A startling, and excellent, piece of work, this. ****
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