by Chris Cleave
I am a woman built upon the wreckage of myself.
In an emotionally raw voice alive with grief, compassion, and startling humor, a woman mourns the loss of her husband and son at the hands of one of history’s most notorious criminals. And in appealing to their executioner, she reveals the desperate sadness of a broken heart and a working-class life blown apart.
I picked this book up because I loved Chris Cleave‘s second novel “Little Bee” when I read it a couple of years ago. I’d never heard of his first book, “Incendiary”, but have since found out that it was made into a feature film so I’m not sure how I missed it until now!
“Incendiary” tells the story of a nameless young woman living in London‘s East End. We find out pretty early on that this woman has lost her husband and young son in a terrorist attack, and this book is her letter to Osama Bin Laden. Full of grief, guilt and loss, this book is a heavy read.
“I’m going to write to you about the emptiness that was left when you took my boy away. I’m going to write so you can look into my empty life and see what a human boy really is from the shape of the hole he leaves behind. I want you to feel that hole in your heart and stroke it with your hands and cut your fingers on its sharp edges.”
This woman hasn’t had the easiest of lives. She’s working class and living on an estate, struggling to get by on the little money her husband earns at work. Her husband works in the bomb disposal unit, so she’s always a bag of nerves waiting for him to come home. She’ll do anything to distract herself from thinking the worst while she waits, from sorting the tins in her cupboard alphabetically to seeking sex outside of her marriage.
Our leading lady soon falls for Jasper, a journalist for The Sunday Times. As I’m sure the author intended, I found it so difficult to like Jasper, and couldn’t stop imaging his unlikable namesake from the film ‘The Holiday’, but she sees something in this man that she likes. The two of them are together when the attack happens, and things just get worse from there on out.
My copy of this book was intended for book clubs, and I was shocked to read in the author’s questions that the original publication of this book was the date of the 7/7 London Bombings which was certainly a chilling coincidence. It’s interesting to look back at 7/7 and consider some of the more recent attacks in comparison to the aftermath of this fictitious one. London‘s fictitious reaction felt just a real as the reality.
The style of writing in this book is conversational and is written in the woman’s own words, grammatical errors and all. There’s a lack of commas and I can see how this may bug some people, but I really liked this style as it helped bring out the personality of the woman and they way she thinks and acts.
“It’s the rain on Bethnal Green Road that makes Britain great and I stood in it for half an hour before I gave up and walked to the tube and the tube was closed too so it was your typical bloody London good morning.
The majority of this book I loved and it was so raw and emotional that I didn’t want to put it down. That said, there was a chunk in the middle that I didn’t get on with so well. There were a few parts where the story took some turns I wasn’t keen on or didn’t really see as plausible and I must say was a little disappointed as I wanted to love this!
I enjoyed Cleave’s second novel “Little Bee” more than his first but both books are extremely well-written and the stories they tell are both powerful reads.
Overall rating: An emotional and heavy read, Chris Cleave‘s “Incendiary” looks at the aftermath of a terrorist attack and how grief, guilt and loss can affect a person. I didn’t love it as much as “Little Bee” but it’s still 4 stars from me.
See my other reviews of books by Chris Cleave here: