Incendiary by Chris Cleave

Incendiary tells the story of an unnamed young mother in London who loses her husband and son in a terrorist attack at a football game.  While she is committing adultery and at the same time watching the game on television, eleven Islamic terrorists in the crowd let off bombs and she sees the explosion which kills “her chaps.”

The book is told in the form of a letter from this young woman to Osama Bin Laden, in which she tries to explain the effect the tragic loss had on her.  Through her letter, the reader also learns how the terrorist attack affects London as a whole. 

I thought this was a very thought provoking and insightful book.  Through the eyes of the narrator, we see how London gives a knee-jerk reaction to the attack, by such measures as stopping Muslims working in certain jobs (a nurse who looks after the narrator is told that she cannot carry on doing her job), and imposing a curfew on everybody living in London, with very harsh penalties for anyone who dares to break it.  Helicopters constantly patrol over London and a culture of fear sets in, which  makes people behave in terrible and frightening ways.

We also see how the life of the narrator is changed irrevocably, as she starts to slowly descend into grief-induced madness, while outwardly trying to cope with the hole in her life that can never be filled.  Her pain is all too believeable, sometimes almost painfully so.

The writing is excellent – with the young woman as narrator, the reader is really able to get into her head and sympathise with her.  The fact that she is never named (and neither are her husband or son), underlines the point that this woman could be any person – terrorism isn’t discriminatory.

My only slight complaint is that there was one thing which happened in the woman’s life which seemed too implausible and unbelieveable.  This is only a very minor gripe however, as these scenes sit amid a story which is chock full of horrifying and all too believeable scenes and images. 

Overall, this is a stunning debut novel, and I am now eager to read Chris Cleave’s second book.  Highly recommended.

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