Review: Incendiary by Chris Cleave

Title: Incendiary
Author: Chris Cleave
Pages: 256
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: January 11, 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: Personal Copy

Incendiary tells the story of an unnamed narrator who must deal with the death of her husband and her young son after they are killed during a suicide bombing attack on a London stadium. Using the epistolary format, the distraught woman writes a letter to Osama Bin Laden detailing her life before and after the big event and tries to convince him to stop his attacks. In an attempt to gain some measure of control, she joins the police force and begins to uncover some unknown details concerning the deaths of her loved ones. Along the way she is thrust into the games of an upper class couple while simultaneously attempting to regain some normalcy after enduring such a tragedy.

This novel was the August pick for my book club, and I have to admit that I didn't care for it at all. There were just too many negatives for me to overlook, the biggest of which was the characters. The way the book was written made me lose a little faith in humanity. None of the characters, who were all quite selfish and egotistical, inspired any sympathy for his or her situation. Each chosen action made the characters look like horrible people, especially the narrator herself. Cleave seemed to take every stereotype of the 'bad' woman (promiscuous wife, neglectful mother, etc) and ascribed them to the narrator, which created such an irritating caricature.

For the most part the writing style didn't really bother me. It took about the first 30 pages to get used to the poor grammar and punctuation which represented the narrator's status as uneducated. However, many of Cleave's plot choices were outrageous, and the end just spirals out of control. I think the entire message of the novel came across as a rant when a more subtle and nuanced take would have made the point even better.

Cleave's attempt to answer the question of how to regain one's sanity after the loss involved with a terror attack definitely didn't resonate with me. Maybe if the characters were a little more likable or the writing more insightful then this would have been a successful novel.


  1. Thanks for the honest review - there was so much hype about Little Bee that I assumed this book would get the same treatment. Neither of his novels really appealed to me, honestly.

    I understand why some authors choose to make their narrators unsympathetic, but there has to be at least ONE redeeming quality about them for me to be on board. Or the writing needs to be so excellent that I don't care about not liking the characteers.

  2. This cover is almost exactly like that of Little Bee, and it took me a minute to figure out why. I don't like the sound of this book at all, and would probably not enjoy reading it. I am sorry that it was such an unpleasant read for you, but after reading your excellent and honest review, I can see why!

  3. I have this one AND Little Bee but I have yet to read either of them. I am kind of hesitant because I have a feeling I won't love either of them.

  4. Thanks for this very honest and informative review. I read Little Bee for a book club, and while there were many good points to discuss in the book, I can't say it was a book I enjoyed reading.

  5. I appreciate your honest review. I think this is a book I will pass on. That cover does look awfully similar to Little Bee. I don't think this is a book for me.

  6. I haven't read this book, but LOVED Little Bee by this author.

  7. I find it curious that the author managed to make the narrator, who you would think would be such a sympathetic figure, into such an unlikeable character...I haven't read Little Bee, and I don't think I would enjoy this one at all. You wrote an excellent and very fair review :) I wonder how the rest of your book club felt...


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