by Chris Cleave

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451618495
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 01/11/2011
Edition description: Book Club Readers Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 316,514
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Chris Cleave was born in London in 1973, and spent his earliest years in Cameroon, where his dad built the Guinness brewery. In 1991 he wrote a novel called The Roadkill Cookbook and went to Balliol College, Oxford, which he left with a First in Experimental Psychology. After having worked sailing yachts from the south of France to the Eastern Mediterranean for their owners and as a busboy in Melbourne, Australia, he returned to London and spent three years with The Telegraph. In 2000 he met Clémence. They moved to Paris, and he now divides his time between playing with his son Louis and writing a new London-based novel. Incendiary is his first book.

He lives in Surrey with his wife and their son.

Read an Excerpt


Dear Osama they want you dead or alive so the terror will stop. Well I wouldn't know about that I mean rock 'n' roll didn't stop when Elvis died on the khazi it just got worse. Next thing you know there was Sonny & Cher and Dexy's Midnight Runners. I'll come to them later. My point is it's easier to start these things than to finish them. I suppose you thought of that did you?

There's a reward of 25 million dollars on your head but don't lose sleep on my account Osama. I have no information leading to your arrest or capture. I have no information full effing stop. I'm what you'd call an infidel and my husband called working class. There is a difference you know. But just supposing I did clap eyes on you. Supposing I saw you driving a Nissan Primera down towards Shoreditch and grassed you to the old bill. Well. I wouldn't know how to spend 25 million dollars. It's not as if I've got anyone to spend it on since you blew up my husband and my boy.

That's my whole point you see. I don't want 25 million dollars Osama I just want you to give it a rest. AM I ALONE? I want to be the last mother in the world who ever has to write you a letter like this. Who ever has to write to you Osama about her dead boy.

Now about the writing. The last thing I wrote was N/A on an income support form that wanted NAME OF SPOUSE OR PARTNER. So you see I'll do my best but you'll have to bear with me because I'm not a big writer. 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. I am a mother Osama I just want you to love my son. What could be more natural?

I know you can love my boy Osama. The Sun says you are an EVIL MONSTER but I don't believe in evil I know it takes 2 to tango. I know you're vexed at the leaders of Western imperialism. Well I'll be writing to them too.

As for you I know you'd stop the bombs in a second if I could make you see my boy with all your heart for just one moment. I know you would stop making boy shaped holes in the world. It would just make you too sad. So I will do my best with these words Osama. I suppose you can see they don't come natural to me but I hope this letter reaches you anyway. I hope it finds you before the Americans do otherwise I'm going to wish I hadn't bothered aren't I?

Well Osama if I'm going to show you my boy I have to start with where he lived and I still do. I live in London England which I agree with you is a bad place in lots of ways but I was born here so what can you do? London looks like a rich place from the outside but we are most of us very poor here. I saw the video you made Osama where you said the West was decadent. Maybe you meant the West End? We aren't all like that. London is a smiling liar his front teeth are very nice but you can smell his back teeth rotten and stinking.

My family was never rotten poor we were hard up there's a difference. We were respectable we kept ourselves presentable but it was a struggle I don't mind telling you. We were not the nice front teeth or the rotten back teeth of London and there are millions of us just like that. The middle classes put up web sites about us. If you're interested Osama just put down that Kalashnikov for a second and look up chav pikey ned or townie in Google. Like I say there are millions of us but now there's a lot less than there were of course. I miss them so bad my husband and my boy especially.

My husband and my boy and me lived on Barnet Grove which is a road that goes from Bethnal Green to Shoreditch. There are 2 kinds of places on Barnet Grove. The first kind are very pricey old terraced houses. The estate agents call them Georgian Gems With Extensive Potential For Conversion To Fully Appointed Executive Flats With Easy Access To The City Of London And Within A Stone's Throw Of The Prestigious Colombia Road Flower Market. The second kind of places are places like ours. They are flats in dirty brick tower blocks they smell of chip fat inside. All the flats in each block are the same except that the front doors don't match on account of they get kicked in as often as they get opened nicely. They built our tower blocks in the Fifties. They built them in the gaps where the Georgian Gems had incendiaries dropped on them by Adolf Hitler.

Adolf Hitler was the last chap who hated London as much as you do Osama. The Sun called him the MOST EVIL MAN IN HISTORY and he made the gaping hole in Barnet Grove that they built our tower block in. I suppose it was thanks to him we could afford to live Within A Stone's Throw Of The Prestigious Colombia Road Flower Market so maybe Adolf Hitler was not all bad in the long run.

Like I say our flat was in one of those tower blocks. It was a small flat and you could hear the upstairs neighbours on the job. They used to start uh uh uh very soft at first and then louder and louder uh uh oh my god UH and after a bit you could listen as hard as you liked and still not know if you were hearing love or murder. It used to drive my husband crazy but at least our flat was warm and clean and it was ours. It was an ex-council flat which is to say we owned it. Which is to say we didn't have to struggle to pay the rent. We struggled to pay the mortgage each month instead there is a difference and that difference is called EMPOWERMENT.

I didn't work I looked after our boy. My husband's wages paid the mortgage and not much else so by the end of the month things were always a bit wobbly. My husband was a copper and he wasn't just any old copper he was in bomb disposal. You might reckon bomb disposal wages would of stretched a bit further Osama but you'd reckon wrong if you didn't reckon with the horses the dogs the cock fights in the back room of the Nelson's Head and whether it was going to be a white Christmas. My husband was the sort of bloke who'd take a punt on anything so thank god he had a better track record with bombs than the 11.31 at Doncaster. When we were behind on the bills I used to get teeth chattering scared of the bailiffs Osama. Whenever I could squeeze a fiver out of the shopping money I used to stash it under the carpet just in case my husband blew everything one day and they chucked us out on our ear. There was never more than a month of mortgage under the rug so we were always less than 31 days away from the street or only 28 days if my husband blew the lot in February which sod's law he would wouldn't he? But I couldn't hold his flutters against him on account of he needed a thing to take his mind off the nerves and his thing was no worse than mine Osama I'll tell you about my thing in a minute.

In bomb disposal the call can come at any time of the day or night and for my husband it often did. If the call came in the evening we would be sitting in front of the telly. Not saying much. Just sitting there with plates on our knees eating chicken kievs. I didn't make them myself I wouldn't know how. They were Findus they were more or less okay they were always his favourite.

Anyway the telly would be on and we'd probably be watching Top Gear. My husband knew a lot about motors. We never could afford a new motor ourselves but my husband knew how to pick a good second hand one. We mostly had Vauhxall Astras they never let us down. They used to sell off the old police Astras you see. They'd give them a respray but if the light was right you could always see POLICE showing out from under the paint job. I suppose a thing can never really change its nature Osama.

Anyway we'd be watching Top Gear and the phone would go and my husband would put his plate down on the sofa and take the phone next door. He wasn't supposed to tell me anything about the job but when he came back through the lounge there was one sure way to tell if it was serious. They always knew which were the real bombs and which were most probably just hoaxes. If it was a hoax my husband would sit back down on the sofa and gobble the rest of his chicken kiev before he left the flat. It only took him 30 secs but he never did that if it was serious. When it was serious he just picked up his jacket and walked straight out.

When it was serious I used to wait up for him. Our boy would be asleep so there was only the telly to take my mind off things. Not that it ever would of course. After Top Gear there was Holby City and then it would be Newsnight. Holby made you nervous about death and chip pan fires and Newsnight made you nervous about life and money so between the both of them they could get you in a right state and leave you wondering why you bothered with the licence fee. But I had to keep the telly on in case anything happened and there was a news flash.

So I used to just sit there Osama watching the telly and hoping it would stay boring. When your husband works in bomb disposal you want the whole world to stay that way. Nothing ever happening. Trust me you want a world run by Richard & Judy. At night I always watched the BBC. I never watched the other side because I couldn't stand the adverts. A woman with nice hair telling how this or that shampoo stops split ends. Well. It made me feel a bit funny when I was waiting to see if my husband had got himself blown up. It made me feel quite poorly actually.

There's a lot of bombs in London these days Osama on account of if you've got a message for the nation then it's actually quite hard to get on Richard & Judy so it's easier just to stick a few old nails and bolts into a Nike bag of fertiliser. Half the poor lonely sods in town are making a bomb these days Osama I hope you're proud of yourself. The coppers make 4 or 5 of them safe every week and another 1 or 2 go off and make holes in people and often as not it's the coppers on the scene who get the holes put in them. They don't show it on the news any more on account of it would give people the screaming abdabs. I'm not big on numbers Osama but once late at night I worked out the odds on my husband getting blown up one day and ever since then I had the screaming abdabs all on my own. It was practically a dead cert I swear not even Ladbrokes would of taken your money.

Sometimes the sun would be up before my husband came home. The breakfast show would be on the telly and there'd be a girl doing the weather or the Dow Jones. It was all a bit pointless if you ask me. I mean if you wanted to know what the weather was doing you only had to look out the window and as for the Dow Jones well you could look out of the window or you could not. You could please yourself because it's not as if there was anything you could do about the Dow Jones either way. My whole point is I never gave a monkey's about any of it. I just wanted my husband home safe.

When he finally came in it was such a relief. He never said much because he was so tired. I would ask him how did it go? And he would look at me and say I'm still here ain't I? My husband was what the Sun would call a QUIET HERO it's funny how none of them are NOISY I suppose that wouldn't be very British. Anyway my husband would drink a Famous Grouse and go to bed without taking his clothes off or brushing his teeth because as well as being QUIET he sometimes COULDN'T BE ARSED and who could blame him? When he was safe asleep I would go to look in on our boy.

Our boy had his own room it was cracking we were proud of it. My husband built his bed in the shape of Bob the Builder's dump truck and I sewed the curtains and we did the painting together. In the night my boy's room smelled of boy. Boy is a good smell it is a cross between angels and tigers. My boy slept on his side sucking Mr Rabbit's paws. I sewed Mr Rabbit myself he was purple with green ears. He went everywhere my boy went. Or else there was trouble. My boy was so peaceful it was lovely to watch him sleep so still with his lovely ginger hair glowing from the sunrise outside his curtains. The curtains made the light all pink. They slept very quiet in the pink light the 2 of them him and Mr Rabbit. Sometimes my boy was so still I had to check he was breathing. I would put my face close to his face and blow a little bit on his cheek. He would snuffle and frown and fidget for a while then go all soft and still again. I would smile and tiptoe backwards out of his room and close his door very quiet.

Mr Rabbit survived. I still have him. His green ears are black with blood and one of his paws is missing.

Now I've told you where my boy came from Osama I suppose I ought to tell you a bit more about his mum before you get the idea I was some sort of saint who just sewed fluffy toys and waited up for her husband. I wish I was a saint because it was what my boy deserved but it wasn't what he got. I wasn't a perfect wife and mum in fact I wasn't even an average one I was what the Sun would call a DIRTY LOVE CHEAT.

My husband and my boy never found out oh thank you god. But I can say it now they're both dead and I don't care who reads it. It can't hurt them anymore. I loved my boy and I loved my husband but sometimes I saw other men too. Or rather they saw me and I didn't make much of an effort to put them off and one thing sometimes led to another. You know what men are like Osama you trained half a million of them yourself they are RAVENOUS LOVE RATS.

Sex is not a beautiful and lovely thing for me Osama it is a condition caused by nerves. Ever since I was a young girl I get so anxious. It only needs a little thing to get me started. Your Twin Towers attack or just 2 blokes arguing over a cab fare it's all the same. All the violence in the world is connected it's just like the sea. When I see a woman shouting at her kid in Asda car park I see bulldozers flattening refugee camps. I see those little African boys with scars across the tops of their skulls like headphones. I see all the lost tempers of the world I see HELL ON EARTH. It's all the same it all makes me twitchy.

And when I get nervous about all the horrible things in the world I just need something very soft and secret and warm to make me forget it for a bit. I didn't even know what it was till I was 14. It was one of our mum's boyfriends who showed me but I won't write his name or he'll get in trouble. I suppose he was a SICK CHILD PREDATOR but I still remember how lovely it felt. Afterwards he took me for a drive through town and I just smiled and looked out at all the hard faces and the homeless drifting past the car windows and they didn't bother me for the moment. I was just smiling and thinking nothing much.

Ever since then whenever I get nervous I'll go with anyone so long as they're gentle. I'm not proud I know it's not an excuse and I've tried so hard to change but I can't. It's deep under my skin like a tat they can never quite remove. It's like you can never stop our Astra saying POLICE down the side. The letters bulge up under the paint job and anyone who's really looking can read them. Oh sometimes I feel so tired.

I'll tell you about one night in particular Osama. You'll see it isn't true I always used to wait up for my husband. One night last spring he got called out on a job and while I was waiting up for him the telly made me very anxious. It was one of those politics talk shows and everyone was trying to talk at once. It was like they were on a sinking ship fighting over the last life jacket and I couldn't stand it. I ran into the kitchen and started tidying to take my mind off things only the problem was it was already tidy. The trouble is when I get nervous I always tidy and I get nervous a lot and there's only so much tidying a small flat can take. I looked around the kitchen I was hopping from foot to foot I was getting desperate. The oven was clean the chip pan was sparkling and all the tins in the cupboards were in alphabetical order with their labels facing outwards. Apple slices Baked beans Custard and so on it was a real problem it was effing perfect I didn't know what to do with myself so I started biting my nails. I can bite till my fingers bleed when I get like that but very luckily just then I had a flash of genius I realized I never had alphabetised the freezer had I? I'm good like that Osama sometimes things just come to me. So I opened up the freezer and dumped out all the food onto the floor and put it back in its right order from top to bottom. Alphabites Burgers Chips Drumsticks Eclairs Fish fingers I could go on but the point is all the time I was doing this I was very happy and I never once imagined my husband cutting the wrong wire on a home made nail bomb and being blown into chunks about the size of your thumb. The trouble was as soon as all the packets were back in the freezer that's exactly what I started seeing. So then I did what anyone would do in my situation Osama I went down the pub.

Reading Group Guide

1. Look at the narrative style of Incendiary. The letter writing format means that the story is conveyed solely from one viewpoint. How successful is the narrative/voice in conveying the events of the novel?

2. The novel is written from the viewpoint of a working class woman. Many of the characters she comes into contact with are, however, upper class. How successful are the different classes portrayed and how do we as readers feel towards each class?

3. The publication of Incendiary coincided with the terrorist attacks in London. Do the real-life terror attacks affect our feelings and viewpoint on the fictionalised terror attacks in the novel? How effectively do you feel Chris Cleave fictionalises the idea of a terrorist attack?

4. London is portrayed in the novel as a city descending into chaos: a place in which a great deal of the essence and true meaning of life has been lost. Do you agree with this?

5. How successful is Incendiary as a study in grief?

6. Incendiary is narrated by a woman, but written by a male author. Can we tell? How convincing is the narrative as that of a female voice?

7. 'I am Petra Sutherland' repeats our narrator over and over again, as she begins to see how different her life could have been, had she been given different opportunities in life. Both she and Petra look very much alike, yet have been thrown very different paths in life and become very different people with different priorities. Their relationship starts off with intense dislike and mistrust but undergoes a transformation as the novel progresses, until the two women, although never friends, form a mutual understanding for one another. Look at the relationship and differing characters of the two women. You may also wish to look at Jasper's relationship with each of the women and the 'love triangle' that is formed between the three.

8. Look at the function of Mena the nurse in the novel. Mena, a Moslem is used to convey certain messages in the novel and is ultimately fired from her job at the hospital simply for her religious beliefs after the tide of hatred against Moslems, following the terrorist attacks. What do Mena's thoughts, beliefs and attitudes add to our understanding of Incendiary?

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Incendiary 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 87 reviews.
SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
I loved Chris Cleave's Little Bee, so when my husband learned that I was meeting a friend in a bookstore, he told me I should look for Cleave's first book Indendiary and see if I'd like that too. So I looked. Pages of compliments to the author at the start of a book do tend to have a bad effect on me. By the time I'd found the first page of writing, my bookstore coffee was cold. I almost wrote the novel off as artsy and not my style but then I stopped and read again. And I was thoroughly hooked. The novel starts as a letter: "Dear Osama." But the correspondent's no great politician, no stop-at-nothing soldier or truth-telling journalist, not even priest or a cleric, but rather a very ordinary Londoner mourning her dead boy and telling her tale. And what a tale. Incendiary is haunting, mesmerizing even. Yet, despite its topic, it's also laugh-out-loud funny. When a neighbor in the high-class Wellington Estate tells the woman he thinks she's "very real," she responds that no-one's ever said that before, probably because they thought it so "bleeding obvious." But all the characters in this novel are heart-breakingly real, even Mr. Rabbit whose constant presence haunts and holds it together. Of course, I'm English. There are places and names that I know as I sink into my chair and into the tale. I'm comfortable. I recognize this voice. But suddenly that quiet world falls spectacularly and totally apart. The author goes where others might justifiably fear to tread and creates something powerfully terrifying and horribly plausible. Betrayal is such a simple word. We use it in so many ways. But one betrayal does not equal another, and Chris Cleave's novel has a depth and honesty that leaves the reader crying, not just for the dead boy, but for all the hopes and dreams that die in everyday betrayals, and for a world that might well be all too real, but really can't be trusted. Incendiary is a masterpiece, just like Little Bee, and highly recommended.
jewelsMN More than 1 year ago
I had no expectations going into this book. I bought it because I had just finished reading "Little Bee" and I liked the writing style of Chris Cleave. This book took me totally by suprise.....from the unique writing style and the actual story, to the author's ability to capture the disjointed grief of our main character, I was so captivated that I found myself wondering during the day (I read at night) how she was coping today. I was very taken with Cleave's grasp of how the mind works during the grief process. Definitely read this book if you appreciate depth in what you read.
avas_mom More than 1 year ago
Chris Cleave is an exceptional author and really knows how to write a compelling story that you can't put down! I read Little Bee first and immediatly went and bought Incendiary. Both stories are wonderful and I would highly recommend.
clee More than 1 year ago
I loved everything about this book. I thought that the style of writing, telling the story in letters was amazing. This book is a must read.
Carolineshine More than 1 year ago
this has to be one of the best stories i've read in a long time. totally worth the purchase and highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this in paperback and read it all in one night. It is a quick read but it is interesting thoight provoking and even a little funny in parts tho overall it is a sad story. I havent read any other books by this author.
Tray73 More than 1 year ago
Very thought provoking novel. Great for book club discussion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love it!!!
Annie Sayers More than 1 year ago
This is cleave's first work and while.he was developing his talent of telling an unfortunately realistic, yet somber tale of tragedy in modern Britain it is not quite as polished nor as accesible. This is still a worthwhile read but just don't expect it to be little bee.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a great book. I was completely engaged in this one and couldn't stop reading. An eye opener for sure. The story is something so many can relate with, unfortunately, but is completely fascinating and you keep wondering how the main character will move on. I highly recommend.
harstan More than 1 year ago
The suicide attack killed a thousand attending the football game at Arsenal Stadium, but to the wife and mother of two victims, it is personal. Her grief has aged her and the video Osama made lauding those who killed the innocent upsets her further. --- The nameless widow decides to write a letter to Osama as her mourning gives her little comfort. Still her loss goes through the stages until she becomes angry that the government anticipated the attack, but did nothing to stop it. As her anger grows, she becomes a civilian working at Scotland Yard¿s antiterrorist unit where she learns a new strike is imminent, but it appears once again officialdom will do nothing. As she continues hermessage to Osama she believes now he is right that some people deserve to die as they are selfish but not everyone for instance why her innocent son. She now trusts no one especially not her government, the media, or her neighbor Christmas Eve has arrived with no hope or cheer for anyone. Yes Osama you are right. --- This is a deep thought provoking and haunting tale that will leave the audience stunned by the impact on the living by a terrorist act. The nameless protagonist comes across as an every-person whether they are a civilian victim in Iraq, the WTC, Madrid, or London. This talented author cleaves one through the soul of the audience that even when there are sprinkles of humor they turn the plot even more provocative. Not for the faint of heart, INCENDIARY is a powerful indictment of humanity. --- Harriet Klausner
ShelfMonkey on LibraryThing 29 days ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't purchase books that have no sample, no matter how glowing the reviews.
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She said this name far too many times. It was painful to read
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a short read, this one is about a adulturous wife whom hubby and kids die in a terriost attack....Chris Cleave wrote "Little Bee" an amazing story, this one was pretty weak basically a letter written to Osama Bin Laden....
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Rachel Rivers More than 1 year ago
I was so captured by the writing of Chris Cleave when reading Little Bee. I can't wait to read this one.
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