“Incendiary” by Chris Cleave

A well-written, poignant look at terrorism, both cause and effect.

[Warning: spoilers further down, don’t read on if you don’t want to know the ending]

The effect comes first – a British woman suffers the loss of her husband and son when a suicide bomber kills a thousand people by detonating a bomb in the middle of the crowd at an Arsenal game. She writes a letter to Osama bin Laden, and this book is the result. It’s calm, moving, never melodramatic. The woman’s loss is tempered by guilt – while her husband and son were at the football match, she was having sex with a journalist, Jasper Black.

The twist comes when she finds out that the police had advance warning of the attack, but did nothing to prevent it. To do so would have been to compromise their intelligence by showing they had informers, etc. Of course they didn’t realise how bad the casualties would be, but the point is they knew and did nothing. It’s a story with historical resonance, from Pearl Harbor and Coventry to the more recent 9/11 conspiracy theories.

This is where the ’cause’ part comes in. She tries to tell people what she knows, but it’s covered up. Jasper writes a story for his newspaper, but his editor/fiancee Petra spikes it under pressure from the government. In his desperation Jasper then arranges a simulated act of terrorism in Parliament Square to draw attention to his story, and the woman herself (is her name ever mentioned? If it was I can’t remember it) goes to visit Petra in her office, intending to douse her in petrol and set her alight.

But she can’t do it – she pulls back. Despite the provocation, the ‘just cause’, she can’t hate another human being enough to kill them, can’t stop feeling. She tells Osama that love is stronger than hate:

Come to me and we will blow the world back together with incredible noise and fury.

It was a fascinating meditation on terrorism, more intelligent and nuanced than any others I’ve read, and there was plenty of action to keep things going as well.

Click here to see more books I’ve reviewed. Read reviews of Incendiary on Amazon.

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There are 2 comments

  1. Okay, I just read the first and last sentences because your recommendation is enough for me to want to read it so won’t allow for spoilers. Also, I found Cleave’s writing really beautiful in Little Bee.

  2. Thanks Claire! Sorry, didn’t really know how to write about it without giving away the plot in this case. Haven’t read Little Bee, I’ll check it out!

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