Incendiary by Chris CleaveIncendiary by Chris Cleavesticker-burst

Incendiary

byChris Cleave

Paperback | September 19, 2006

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At once a novel and an open letter to Osama bin Laden, Incendiary is a shocking, hilarious, and heartbreaking debut that crashes head on into huge questions of right and wrong, good and evil, madness and sanity.

Incendiary is the story of a working class woman who likes her simple life: watching Arsenal matches on the telly with her husband and little boy, fishsticks for dinner in their small flat, the occasional trip to the pub.

One spring afternoon the woman, whom we know only by the nickname “Petal”, watches her husband and their son head happily off to Ashburton Grove, Arsenal’s brand new stadium, to see their favourite team play. A few hours later the horror of a terrorist bombing plays out on her television — the bombing of Ashburton Grove.

“Petal” tells her own story in an extraordinary voice, one both desperate and sharply funny, speaking directly to the man responsible for the bombing. She shows the reader an incredible world, a London that is not quite real, in a time that is not quite our own. And as deeply enmeshed as the reader becomes in her reality, a tiny, persistent doubt begins to creep in about just what is reality and what is a manifestation of her griefstricken and distraught imagination.


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.

—excerpt from Indendiary


From the Hardcover edition.
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...
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Title:IncendiaryFormat:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 7.9 × 5.1 × 0.8 inPublished:September 19, 2006Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385661711

ISBN - 13:9780385661713

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Difficult to read, yet even harder to put down. You can feel the pain of this woman through her telling of the tale. Though not based on an actual event, it is similar enough to those that have happened to be the real reflections of a survivor-spouse-parent.
Date published: 2014-01-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Captivating and Original Cleave has done an amazing job with this novel. The story line is absolutely amazing and the characters he creates are some of the most captivating I've ever encountered. I'd recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a great read and something different. Phenomenal.
Date published: 2009-08-17

Read from the Book

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 Dexys 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 Haggerston 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 son with all your heart for just one moment. I know you would stop making boy-shaped holes in the world. It would 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 Haggerston. 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 Columbia 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 calls 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 Columbia 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 cockfights 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. 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. 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 secondhand one. We mostly had Vauxhall 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 took him only 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 anymore 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 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.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub 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?

Editorial Reviews

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.” —NOW Magazine“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.” —Newsday “So timely it stings.” —The Independent (UK)“A haunting work of art.” —Newsweek