Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
"Dear Osama," a woman writes, "you blew up my husband and boy." With stark simplicity, these words begin a story that's as unsettling as it is compelling. After a suicide bomb at a London soccer match, a young wife and mother is forced to confront the unthinkable. In a voice filled with despair, this unnamed narrator begins a letter to Osama bin Laden. She writes so he will "see what a human boy really is from the shape of the hole he leaves behind."
With her familiar life blown to pieces, the letter is a cri de coeur and an attempt to convince Osama to stop his campaign of terror. But this is only the beginning. With London under a virtual lockdown and every scrap of life she knew gone in one terrible moment, she talks her way into a job aiding the police in their investigation. Befriended by a journalist and his girlfriend, she is drawn into a psychological tangle of subterfuge that threatens her sanity and her life. And when London faces yet another attack, she finds herself under siege, on the run, and witness to a desperation and violence she could never have fathomed.
Undeniably provocative and stunningly bold, with a vision as macabre as it is chillingly realistic, Incendiary is a keenly imaginative first novel, lit by the times we know.
(Fall 2005 Selection)
How are we left at the end of this gruesome and grueling saga? Strangely light-headed, as if we have lived through happenings in another world, a world brought brutally to life by current events. This is Chris Cleave's first novel. My imagination can't stretch to where he could go from here.
The Washington Post
An al-Qaeda bomb attack on a London soccer match provides the tragicomic donnee 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. Agent, Jennifer Joel at ICM. First printing 100,000. (Aug. 8) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Cleave's debut novel is, in its entirety, a letter that his unnamed female narrator is writing to Osama bin Laden ("Dear Osama," it begins) after a suicide bombing at a London soccer match has killed her husband and four-year-old son. Her sentences run on without filter or punctuation, and the action never ceases. Her voice, rife with the deepest hurt and anger yet full of compassion and a sense of humor, somehow reveals the similar humanness in a Saudi terrorist and a working-class mother from London's East End. She speaks to him in her letter as if they were old acquaintances, and while the loss of her husband and son consumes her every minute, it is the humor she finds that keeps her going. Within her letter is a political admonition about the war on terror and its societal ramifications. She makes pointed references to the fact that after the bombing, the upper-class sections of London receive greater security from another possible attack. Of a trip through the wealthy Knightsbridge district, she writes, "It looked like the authorities were determined to not let your men get anywhere near the fashion shops Osama." Cleave's is a London in dire straits, both under repressive police law and on the verge of total anarchy. While flipped-over cars burn in the streets, helicopters patrol the neighborhoods, their high beams searching for people out after curfew. The angst palpitates: "Everyone was trying to get home before curfew. The choppers battered away into the darkness making a noise like death and nobody wanted reminding about dying." Ultimately, the narrator represents, in a way, all of London in her personal anguish, and, amidst the chaos and her own poverty, a determination tofight and live another day.
Cleave's auspicious debut takes the form of a woman's letter to Osama bin Laden. A suicide bombing at a London sporting event leaves the city gripped by fear: 1000 are dead and many more irrevocably damaged by the experience. The author of the letter is a working-class woman whose husband and young son were killed in the blast. Afterward, haunted by visions of her son and other bombing victims, she teeters on the edge of reality, vacillating between hope and desperation. The narrator, whose name we never learn, goes on to develop a perverse relationship with an upper-class couple and take a job in the police department to help fight the war against terrorism. Graphic depictions of violence and gore accompany humorous reflections on life and class differences-an odd combination that makes for strangely compelling reading. Recommended for larger public libraries.-Sarah Conrad Weisman, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A grieving widow and mother composes a letter to Osama Bin Laden. At points, Cleave's oddly elegant debut novel about the soul-corroding effects of modern terrorism seems like something George Orwell might have written during the Blitz, had he been a little less concerned with the niceties of punctuation. Cleave opens with a high-wire burst of stream-of-consciousness grief on the part of a youngish but now careworn woman whose husband and son have been killed in a horrific suicide attack on the Arsenal football stadium: "I saw the video you made Osama where you said the West was decadent. Maybe you mean 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." Sinking into her mourning, she attempts to comfort herself with the thought that at least her son died in the company of his beloved father. It is not enough; sadness gives way to denial, and denial gives way to fury as the bereaved of London begin to suspect that the government knew something about the impending carnage and did nothing to stop it. Our narrator falls in with a fiercely ambitious columnist and an investigative journalist, with whom she had a brief, formless affair before the attack. Working as a civilian in an antiterrorist police unit at Scotland Yard, and urged on by her confidants, she discovers bits and pieces of information that, just in time for a new attack, collectively do much to slip the tether off whatever small mooring she has left in the world: "It is Christmas Eve Osama and this morning I decided you were right after all. . . . Some people are cruel and selfish and the world would be better off without them."Whoknows what? Whom can we trust? Like David Mitchell's Ghostwritten, Cleave's provocative debut will make readers a little uneasy-and that's okay. First printing of 100,000
Winner of the 2006 Somerset Maugham Award
“An audacious, provocative voice. Incendiary is stunning in its portrayal of a city living with terror.”
—The New York Times
“Stunning. . . . A harrowing and sharply written account of urban panic and the hallucinatory effects of shock.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Read Incendiary. And I mean it. Read it. It is outrageous, infuriating, heartbreaking, terrifying and very, very important.”
“Cleave’s narrator is one of the strongest, most convincing personalities to grace the pages of literature in years. . . [He] has achieved something magical, creating a character who lives on long after the last page has been read.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“Hilariously sympathetic. . . . Cleave has achieved something rare: a black comedy about the war on terrorism and terrorism itself. [Incendiary] will break your heart and remind you how, in the face of the uncontrollable and the inexplicable, humor can allow one to survive.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“A poignant and compelling novel. . . utterly believable and mesmerizing. . . . Incendiary works not only as a furiously taut evocation of grieving, unhinged mother-love but as a sly political cautionary tale.”
“So timely it stings.”
—The Independent (UK)
“A haunting work of art.”