Book review: Incendiary

Incendiary, the first novel by British journalist Chris Cleave, came to my attention after receiving an email from a colleague at Random House. In it she wrote: “PLEASE read this book…it’s incredibly moving and heartbreaking. As a parent it was difficult subject matter, but it has made a huge impact on me. I am a better mother for it. MUST read. Have I gushed enough?” My reaction: Sure, alright. Maybe it would work for MySweetBaby.

I received the book before the holidays and took it with me – not just on vacation but wherever I went on that vacation. Marc was watching television, I pulled out the book. Mom was making dinner, I pulled out the book. Kids are playing quietly, looked on it shock, then pulled out the book. You get the idea.
So what held me so captivated?

First, the story. The book is actually a letter – one being written to Osama bin Laden by a London mum who just lost her husband and son in an al-Qaeda bombing of a soccer stadium. The British love their soccer – what a thoughtful place to strike a mass of people, no?

Second, the tone. Cleave seamlessly weaves in and out of heartache, humour, hallucination and hope, forcing the reader to grieve, laugh and fear what comes next.

Third, the writing. You truly feel like you’re reading a text written by a working-class mum, from the stories she tells to the ways she speaks.

Fourth, the familiarity. The narrator and I have very little in common. Sometimes I think it would be nice to be as frank and direct as she is, but it’s just not in me. But what we do share is a love for our family. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say

Incendiary has made me a better mother, it certainly has changed my perspective a bit. The telling graph: “He was such a lovely sweet boy. Of course he could be a right little horror too… I used to wish I had just a moment of time to myself. And now that I do have time to myself it’s the last thing I want. It’s silly really.”

It is silly really. The things we think are so important one moment are meaningless the next. And the things we take for granted are the ones we’ll miss the most.

Pick up Incendiary. I think you’ll be glad you did.

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