What I Read: Incendiary

“I am a woman built upon the wreckage of myself.”

I started Chris Cleave’s  Incendiary and immediately found it to be different from anything I have read. And I also began to appreciate the value of proper pronunciation, though I eventually adapted to the writing style. The book is written in the form of a letter to Osama bin Laden after her young son and husband are killed violently in a terrorist attack on a London sporting event. Yes, I said a letter. A 237-page letter, at least for my version of the book. I’ll be honest here because I have no reason to be dishonest: I found this to be an uncomfortable read. Interesting? Yes. Intriguing? Yes. Sad? Yes. But far from comfortable. Your heart wants to weep for the main character. And then while I knew that I will never relate to her suffering, I have some suffering of my own through which I have lived, and so I found some passaged especially poignant.

So her life, after the attacks and the recovery from the injuries she has sustained in going into the bombed stadium to try to find the other 2/3rds of her young family, her life takes some bizarre twists, including an affair with a cocaine addict and subsequent involvement in a weird triangle with his girlfriend. Which progresses to involvement with the cheif of police, and back again to the cocaine addict. Somewhere in there, she discovers that the autorities knew in advance that the attack was going to take place and opted to not do anything because it would ruin their luck with their sources of information. And then her downward spiral accelerates. She hallucinates, seeing visions of her son everywhere. She even begins speaking to him in front of others.

It is all just so horribly…sad. And while it is fiction, and I know this, I also came to the horrific realization that in our post-9/11 world, this is/was/will be someone’s  life. Somewhere there is a widow who has gone through this. And my heart breaks for her.

Incendiary was Cleaves’ first novel. You may know him by his novel Little Bee, which is next on my list. This book is worth the read. because of its subject matter, I am sure that each reader’s reaction is as unique as the book itself.

Incendiary. By Chris Cleave. You can buy it here.


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