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Incendiary

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3.61  ·  Rating details ·  12,474 ratings  ·  1,705 reviews
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.
Paperback, 239 pages
Published September 19th 2006 by Anchor (first published 2005)
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Average rating 3.61  · 
Rating details
 ·  12,474 ratings  ·  1,705 reviews


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Will Byrnes
Mar 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: terrorism
There are several major elements to Incendiary, the wonderful book Chris Cleave wrote well before he became known for Little Bee.

First a tough, working-class, London mom loses her bomb-squad husband and four-year-old son when terrorists bomb a packed soccer stadium, suffering injuries herself in attempting to find them immediately after the event. The unnamed narrator has to decide whether life is worth living. Her grief, and PTSD is manifest in hallucinations. She sees her dead son with increa
...more
Jeanette (Again)
Dec 20, 2009 rated it did not like it
UGH!! This is horrible! Trying to read it is like banging your head against a concrete pillar. You should only do it for the feeling of relief when you finally decide to stop.

I read about 30 pages and I can't take any more. The narrator is an obsessive---the kind who alphabetizes everything in her kitchen cupboards and freezer...and then goes one level deeper and alphabetizes within the alphabetization!
This entire "Dear Osama" story is written in that obsessive fashion. Annoying details repeat
...more
Lance Greenfield
Original, entertaining, authentic and believable


An East End [of London:] woman decides to write a letter to Osama bin Laden after a team of his suicide bombers wreck her life by indiscriminately blowing up the crowd at a football match, killing both her husband and her four-and-a-quarter year-old son, along with over a thousand other football fans.

The letter is written, mainly in the authentic language of an East End gal, but with snippets of people from other worlds. The grammar and punctuatio
...more
Marialyce
Mar 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, just wow! This book just blew me away literally. It was one of those books that you love to hate but the realism, the pathos, the fear is brought out on every single page. Perhaps this book had such an impact because I am a native New Yorker who lived and worked a mere fifteen miles away from ground zero. I remember the panic, the sorrow, the intense feeling of both grief and despair as if that event occurred yesterday.

The author has revived that feeling of intense loss and the way a mind c
...more
Robert Beveridge
Jan 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
...more
M
Sep 19, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
OK, Cleave. It's officially over for us. You are a man on a mission, a guy who tries to pass himself off as clever but is merely gimmicky, a man who attempts pathos and ends up mawkish. BLARGH. Here, in no particular order, are the things I can't stand in novels, in general, and applied to this one, in specific:
1. Letters that magically, somehow, have perfectly remembered dialogues and long plot driven descriptions that no one would ever write.

It's not only lazy but impossible to believe. The wh
...more
Michelle
Jan 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Wow. I'm really not sure how I feel about this book. I want to say it's unrealistic but it's not and that's scary. I want to say it's funny, and it is in a very sad way. And I want to say it's sad and it is but in a funny way. Each time I put it down I wanted to pick it up again and continue reading. Strangely compelling.
Gigi
Feb 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
wow. i buy the book at the miami airport and start reading at takeoff. fifteen minutes later, my mouth is literally hanging open with shock. a three hour flight to nyc feels like six seconds and i race home to finish the book that night. i read and loved little bee (chris cleave's 2008 novel) and i have been an ardent and faithful word-of-mouther for the last year, pushing it onto the bookshelves of anyone who will hear me out. i don't think love is the right word for my reaction to incendiary. ...more
Jess
Aug 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
After Little Bee, I had high hopes for Incendiary. Unfortunately, Chris Cleave left me disappointed. Unfortunately, Incendiary seems more like an outlandish dark daydream than anything real. For instance, she throws up on Prince William. Really? Really. I understand what Cleave was trying to do here, but no part of it seemed real. The entire time I thought I was reading some middle schooler's attempt to be a dark and gruesome author. With the middle schooler you pat him on the back, at least he' ...more
Shane
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
A chilling debut novel presented in an unfamiliar epistolary format: a letter to Osama bin Laden by one of his victims, narrated to read like a first person novel.

Our unknown narrator is a working class woman whose husband is a policeman in the bomb disposal unit. She is highly strung and suffers OCD due to the pressures of her husband’s job. Her remedy for nerves is extra marital sex, whenever and wherever she can find it, while hubby is away diffusing bombs at all hours of the night. She falls
...more
Sheila
Mar 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I loved Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, so when my husband learned that I was meeting a friend in a bookstore, he told me I should look for Cleave’s first book Indendiary and see if I’d like that too. So I looked.

Pages of compliments to the author at the start of a book do tend to have a bad effect on me. By the time I’d found the first page of writing, my bookstore coffee was cold. I almost wrote the novel off as artsy and not my style but then I stopped and read again. And I was thoroughly hooked.

T
...more
Ammara Abid
Dec 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: top-priority
One-sitting read!

Very unique plot!
A woman talking with Osama bin Ladin before & after the death of her husband and son and blaming him for the London attack but the reality was something else. She keep on discussing afterwards each event of her life with him.

I have mixed feelings regarding this book. ahhh Amazing some parts while few things are repeatedly discussed which bored me.
All & all very different and interesting book.
...more
Jill
Feb 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Imagine that you’re a working class Cockney mother with a husband who detonates bombs and a young son who is four years and three months old. You stave off your anxieties about the uncertainty of your life through mindless sex encounters. Eventually, you meet a neighbor – a journalist named Jasper – and, while your husband and son are at a soccer game, you invite him to your flat. At the exact same time you are in the throes of sexual abandon, there’s a massive terrorist bomb attack at the Londo ...more
Carmen
Jan 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
This book is amazing. I would tell you all about it but I don't want to ruin anything for you.

The whole book is written as a letter to Osama from a woman whose husband and son were killed in a huge London bombing in which over 1,000 people died. They call it May Day (read: 9/11).

If you think this sounds really maudlin - it isn't. It is sad, funny, real, true, and breathtaking. This is not some sob-your-heart-out dime novel. It's a deep, brutal, personal look at human nature and tragedy.

The woma
...more
Rachelfm
Sep 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Chris Cleave creates such memorable, credible characters with absolutely unique voices. The admittedly imperfect mother narrating this work in her singular, working-class, comma-phobic London voice grabs you by the gut. I didn't come up for air while reading this book. A fictional but eerily realistic terror attack rips through London and the life of one small family. The surviving mother writes a year-long letter to Osama bin Laden, addressing her anger, her loss, and her reactions (rational, i ...more
Ken Deshaies
May 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"Incendiary" is one of the best books I've read - ever. I also read Cleave's "Little Bee", as engaging a book as you want to pick up. However, this is different, both in style and content. Told through the voice of a lower class woman in London who is writing a letter to Osama Bin Laden after her husband and son were killed (along with hundreds of others) in an al-Qaeda suicide bomb attack at a soccer match. At the very moment of the explosion, the woman is not only having sex on her living room ...more
Ele Munjeli
Sep 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book took so much balls to write: the main character is woman, writing about motherhood, and wifehood, yet it was written by a man. The protagonist is working class; but the author graduated from Oxford. Above all, it's an exploration of a hideous crime, and the personal losses consequent, though this event never happened. The strength of the book lies in its enormous imagination. London after May Day is achingly detailed, Orwellian, but authentic due to intimate observation with the absurd ...more
Bronwen
A gripping story. I don't know how Chris Cleave gets inside women's heads so well. A lot of WOMEN don't do it this well. Also shows a deep understanding of the lives and passions of the working class.

Side note: Cleave has a blog that is very good. No surprise.
Alex Csicsek
Aug 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
How would London respond when faced with truly genuine fear? Written before the horrific events of 7/7, author Chris Cleave paints a dystopian picture of London as we know it in the aftermath of a horrific al-Qeada bombing where 1000 men, women, and children were blown to bits as they enjoyed a day out at an Arsenal match. The story is told through the eyes of an average working class East End woman who loses her husband and son in the attack. Incendiary is a profound story of unbearable loss, a ...more
Pat Herndon
Feb 07, 2013 rated it liked it
I listened to the audiobook. The audiobook performance was superb, with the perfect reader to perform the material. I am sure that her reading enhanced my perception of the book...but. But, this plot line had some strange flaws in what I would otherwise describe as an excellent story. I read Little Bee and thought that it was an amazing work. Then I read Gold and thought, Chris Cleave does not understand female friendship. I was very pleased that this book was moving at an excellent pace..great ...more
K
"Incendiary" is a letter to Osama bin Laden written by a working class London woman who has lost her husband and son in a terror attack. In this confessional letter, the woman describes some of the events in her life prior to the attack as well as her interactions afterward. The nameless woman appears to unravel over the course of the book, as do many of the people around her and even the city of London itself.

The book was powerful, intense and well-written. I liked the fact that the main charac
...more
Brittany
Jul 14, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Cleave blew me away with his recent novel, Little Bee. I was excited to read the older Incendiary, yet I was deeply disappointed and disgusted. Yes, I finished the entire novel but only because I kept hoping that it was going to turn around and improve. It did not. With a promising beginning, I was immediately intrigued with the heroine of the story writing a letter to Osama Bin Laden blaming him for the deaths of her husband and son in a terrorist attack at a soccer match. However, as it went o ...more
Laura
Mar 02, 2013 rated it liked it
I hate when I read a book that has an engaging protagonist, a compelling story, and an intriguing location, along with some awesome action and the author keeps you reading, rooting for the narrator and then....he RUINS it ALL during the last twenty pages. I won't do a spoiler alert by telling you HOW he wrecks it. All I will say is I only recommend the first 214 pages of the 237 page book. After that the whole things gets shot to hell. the story derails, crashes, burns, and just stinks.

I like th
...more
Holly
Oct 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book has mixed reviews and I can't imagine why. Some people didn't like the author's choice to leave out commas, even though this is part of the main character's personality. However, I listened to the audio version and the reader was tailor made for the part. I really thought Chris Cleave did a magnificent job of imagining the craziness involved in a terror attack and the aftershock. He nailed it so well for me that I had to look up the storyline details to see if it was based on a true st ...more
Betsy
May 01, 2019 rated it did not like it
One of the worse books I have read. It started out interesting; then the main character became very bazaar. I understand that the author was trying to portray the state of mind a person might be in after losing a husband and son in a terrorist bombing, but really??? The woman is having sex with another man in her apartment while her husband and son are at a soccer game in London. Bombs explode at the game and she sees it on TV then of course freaks out. The remainder of the book is not only abou ...more
Anna Macfadyen
May 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Although a bit over the top and chaotic at the end, the epistolary and conversational narrative was powerful in showing the fragility and ingrained social inequality in Western society’s so called ‘civilisation’.
Camille
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't know what I was expecting but what I got wasn't it. This was such a deeply moving and sad story about what happens when a life falls apart. While this is one woman's story, it shows just how fragile human beings are and just how self absorbed we can be. I just realized that I just finished a book and the main character's name was never mentioned. I spent over 200 pages feeling sorry for and being appalled by the life of this woman and wasn't even bothered that I didn't know her name. Wow ...more
Jeff
What a book to read for someone who makes their living in the homeland security industry. "Incendiary" follows a widow following her husband's and son's death from a terrorist attack on London. Not only is it an insightful statement on an individual's grief for her family and nation, but it is also a poignant statement on that nation's grief. In many ways, we can look at the narrator's descent into madness as understandable, given her extreme losses. England, however, is made out like a just-cha ...more
Alex Norcross
Jun 24, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
After 130 pages I decided to call it quits on this book. While the idea of a woman writing to the terrorist who engineered the deaths of her husband and son is intriguing, I found the protagonist unrealistic given the intellectual and moral gravity that the plot entails. It is entirely possible to make a character such as an unfaithful wife seem sympathetic and interesting, but I think Cleave misses the mark in this regard. Like many other novels that begin with tragedies, we as readers are thru ...more
Karen Germain
Apr 05, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having just finished Chris Cleave's second novel and loving it, I immediately went out to buy his first novel, "Incendiary." Overall, I found parts of the story to be a bit over the top and messy, but I still enjoyed the story. It's face paced and impossible to put down.

Although none of the characters is even remotely likeable, I still was still able to connect with them. This was the same case in his second novel, "Little Bee." Cleave has a way of making off putting characters, become accesible
...more
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Chris Cleave was born in London and spent his early years in Cameroon. He studied experimental psychology at Balliol College, Oxford. His debut novel, INCENDIARY, won a 2006 Somerset Maugham Award, was shortlisted for the 2006 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and is now a feature film. His second novel, LITTLE BEE, is a New York Times #1 bestseller with over 2 million copies in print. GOLD is his thir ...more

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“I am a woman built upon the wreckage of myself.” 43 likes
“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 hold inside you and the noise never stops…I live in an inferno where you could shiver with cold Osama. This life is a deafening roar but listen. You could hear a pin drop.” 13 likes
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