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Incendiary: A Novel (Book Club Readers Edition) Paperback – January 11, 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition (January 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451618492
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451618495
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,328 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 64 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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12 of 15 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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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Joseph P. Menta, Jr. VINE VOICE on December 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Incendiary" takes the form of a first-person narrative of its central protagonist, an unnamed London resident who was wife and mother to two victims of a fictional terrorist attack in Great Britain by Osama Bin Laden (ironically and creepily, however, the novel was released in Great Britain on the same day as the London commuter rail terror attacks). Taking the form of an open letter to the terrorist leader, the novel discusses all aspects of the current debate about terrorists: their motivations, the West's response, how that response now affects every aspect of our lives, and so on. The novel is strongest when it sticks to a former wife and mother honestly asking Osama Bin Laden how mass murder can make the world a better place for anyone, and gets a bit bogged down when the author injects "plot" in the later going, in the form of possible prior knowledge on the part of the British government about the attack. But through it all, the central character's realistic, heartfelt voice- sometimes angry, sometimes sarcastic, and often surprisingly humorous- holds the whole piece together and places this among the most unique and involving novels I've read in some time.
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