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Incendiary Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 2, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (August 2, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307262820
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307262820
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,497,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An al-Qaeda bomb attack on a London soccer match provides the tragicomic donnée of former Daily Telegraph journalist Cleave's impressive multilayered debut: a novel-length letter from an enraged mother to Osama bin Laden. Living hand to mouth in London's East End, the unnamed mother's life is shattered when her policeman husband (part of a bomb disposal unit) and four-year-old son are killed in the stadium stands. Complicating matters: our narrator witnesses the event on TV, while in the throes of passion with her lover, journalist Jasper Black. The full story of that day comes out piecemeal, among rants and ruminations, complete with the widow's shell-shocked sifting of the stadium's human carnage. London goes on high terror alert; the narrator downs Valium and gin and clutches her son's stuffed rabbit. After a suicide attempt, she finds solace with married police superintendent Terrence Butcher and in volunteer work. When the bomb scares escalate, actions by Jasper and his girlfriend Petra become the widow's undoing. The whole is nicely done, as the protagonist's headlong sentences mimic intelligent illiteracy with accuracy, and her despairingly acidic responses to events—and media versions of them—ring true. But the working-class London slang permeates the book to a distracting degree.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

An all-around stunning novel. Even if Incendiary hadn’t eerily predicted the bombings on the London Tube (and hit British bookstores that same day), it would rank as one of this season’s novels to be missed at your own peril (unless you’re swearing by Michiko Kakutani, who deemed the book in poor taste). Cleave has mimicked the voice of a working-class woman with remarkable persuasiveness—though non-British readers may wallow in East End slang confusion. A formal journalist, he has brought an eye for detail and political commentary to his fiction. A little parody—and a little sex—deflect the novel’s unbearable sobriety, if the narrator’s affair belies credibility. Take that, Jonathan Safran Foer and Ian McEwan! Cleave’s debut could be considered the finest post-9/11 terrorism novel yet.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

More About the Author

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 an international bestseller with over 2 million copies in print. He lives in London with his wife and three children. Chris Cleave enjoys dialogue with his readers and invites all comers to introduce themselves on Twitter; he can be found at or on his website at

Customer Reviews

I just had no sympathy for the main character.
I found the book very intense, impossible to put down, and one of the best books I've read in a long time.
It shows us how we all struggle as individuals in the world as well as internally.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on September 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In the world of post-9/11 literature, great attention has gone to Jonathan Safran Foer's EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE, Ian McEwan's SATURDAY, and Art Spigelman's IN THE SHADOW OF NO TOWERS. Now comes a first novel less pyrotechnic and histrionic than Foer's, less cold and distant than McEwan's, and less shallow and self-centered than Spigelman's, a book at once more graphically horrifying and touchingly, humanly real than any of them, and it seems to have hardly been noticed. Chris Cleave's INCENDIARY is an extraordinary work, a brilliant discourse on Western culture, class divisions, the meaning of family, and the meaning of freedom (or lack thereof) in an England (or an America) obsessively embroiled in a "war on terror."

Structurally, INCENDIARY takes the form of an extended, Dear Osama letter, written over four seasons by an anonymous, lower middle class housewife whose husband (a bomb squad member for the London police) and four-year-old son were killed in a suicide bombing at an Arsenal football match. At the very moment they were killed, she was engaged in flagrante delicto on her living room sofa with Jasper Black, a well-off social and professional climber who worked as a columnist for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper. Her lengthy epistle begins as a plea for Osama to stop the terrorism - to "stop making boy-shaped holes in the world" - but evolves as a retelling of her life's downward spiral following May Day, as Londoners come to call their soccer match version of 9/11. She becomes increasingly involved with Paul and his scheming newspaper columnist girlfriend Petra Sutherland, lands a file clerking job with her husband's former boss and anti-terrorism czar Terence Butcher, and ultimately learns a horrifying truth about May Day.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By David J. Gannon on August 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Incendiary is as multifaceted, complex and enthralling a novel as I have read in a long time.

Ostensibly this book is about terrorism as represented by a massive suicide bombing at a soccer match in London. In actuality it is about the corrosive aftereffects terrorist acts have on both society and individuals both from the standpoint of dealing with the immediate trauma as well as the more subtle yet equally difficult task of reevaluating ones values and principles to confront an extraordinary yet essentially invisible evil in your own back yard.

The book examines these issues through an artifice-the novel is one long letter from a widow created by the soccer stadium blast to Osama bin laden. I have seen authors use this device before, with a tremendous lack of success, but Chris Cleave pulls it off with aplomb. His unnamed protagonist effectively reflects in her missive the complex dynamics of both her own and society's evolving reactions and responses to the terrorist act.

The book raises many deeply relevant questions. How much of what our narrator feels and acts is a reflection of the act itself or the personal betrayal she was engage din as the act took place? How much of one's values and principles does society wish to abandon to combat the terrorists?

The book also gently ties into the narrative the essentially timeless aspects of these questions. Just as Churchill was faced with the question of what to do about the knowledge he possessed of Nazi intentions (gained through breaking Nazi communications codes), i.e., do we warn people in his target areas and save lives but lose the intelligence pipeline or do we sacrifice those lives to preserve that pipeline? (he chose the latter) the London Police face similar quandaries.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy C on May 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is one of the most emotionally powerful books I've read in a long time. It made me want to cry at times.

The story is basically about a woman who loses her husband and son in a horrific fictional terrorist attack in London (ironically, the book was released either a day before or a day after the London Subway attacks).

The book chronicles her pain and suffering as everything she knows falls apart and she piteously tries to hold on to something, anything.

This book will seriously tear at your heart as you read it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 23, 2011
Format: Paperback
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 recklessness, there's a massive terrorist bomb attack at the London soccer stadium, vaporizing over one thousand people - your husband and son among them. How do you go on? How do you live with the remorse?

Chris Cleave explores that question in an epistolary structure; the nameless woman writes a letter to Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of the attack. The epistolary form is used with caution as a framing device (Nicole Krauss's The Great House and Moshid Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist come to mind), because it is not easy to pull off. The reader is a fly-on-the-wall and can choose to connect with the narrator - or not. And if truth be known, Mr. Cleave is not entirely successful in his narrative control as the conceit of writing to Osama begins to wear thin.

What he is successful with is developing a fragile persona - an obsessive woman who is gradually unraveling as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder and who is quickly spiraling downward. The anonymity of the character makes her everywoman, trying to survive in a post-terrorist world. The woman writes, "Before you bombed my boy Osama I always through 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.
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