O! what Man will do fore a Rime!

Self-proclaimed bibliophile, culture nut and nerdfighter. English lit. and linguistics geek. Future career in publishing.

Incendiary by Chris Cleave

Incendiary - Chris Cleave


Note: The review below was taken directly from my Goodreads account.


I wanted to like this book because it had the makings of something I would like (Britain, a terrorist attack and the aftermath as seen through the eyes of a victim), but also because my friend recommended it to me and we usually like a lot of the same things. No dice this time.

Unfortunately, Incendiary was too gimmicky, too implausible and the characters were barely sympathetic.

The book is comprised of four letters, all written to describe the four seasons, with the terrorist attack happening in Spring. The letters are written by the protagonist, a woman from London's East End who has lost her husband and son in the attack, and she is writing them to Osama bin Laden.

I can't decide what I found the most irritating. There was an extreme lack of commas which, as I understand it, is supposed to be stylistic; it was more frustrating than anything as I had to backtrack some sentences (which would have been run-ons anyway) to follow. The characters were similarly annoying -- the protagonist wasn't sympathetic, didn't really grow on you and was defined by a horrible character flaw; the secondary characters were all overwhelmingly terrible people with the exception of Terence Butcher, though he wasn't particularly likeable either. Finally, there was a bunch of capitalization when there didn't need to be any (e.g., This guy is dressed like what young adults call A HIPSTER). Stylistics again, but still not compelling.

My main issue with the protagonist is her character flaw: when she gets nervous (which she admits in the book is all the time) she fucks around. It's a stupid flaw and is only there to throw together the protagonist and the main male character and cocaine-riddled douchebag, Jasper Black. Jasper's girlfriend, Petra Sutherland, is a bit more likeable and understandable than the others, but still not sympathetic. Terence Butcher is a dickhole, but he actually seems to have issues of guilt and so becomes a bit more interesting than the others.

The part that I found gimmicky and implausible is styling the book as letters to Osama bin Laden. The letters didn't give off much depth and were told more as semi-omniscient with direct conversations repeated back. I don't think it worked well and it seemed to serve as a way to capitalize on the sentimentality of the reader. The implausibility comes from the amount of story the protagonist puts in the letters: there is no need to recount your sexual assault in the bathroom or clothes-shopping at Harvey Nichols. Why? Because Osama would not care and it isn't even important to tell him those things.

I do want to give Cleave credit for making the aftermath of the attack descriptive and grotesque, and the lead-up to the attack itself was phenomenal. He also deserves praise for the final section (Winter), which is a million times more action-packed than the rest of the book (aside from the attack itself and its aftermath), gives more growth to the characters and actually made me feel something for some of them. I just suggest he never write sex scenes again because they come across as awkward. Shudder.

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