Set in the East End of London, Chris Cleave’s 2005 debut novel, Incendiary, is formatted as a grieving housewife’s letter to Osama bin Laden, asking him to stop his campaign of terror after her husband and son are blown to bits by his suicide bombers at a soccer game.
While cheating on her husband, the protagonist looks up at her TV in horror and sees the soccer stadium crumble under a cloud of black smoke. In shock, she rushes to the arena, but is trampled by a panic-stricken mob. She soon ends up crawling around in blood and body parts, futilely trying to find her loved ones. They are in pieces, but even more disturbing, perhaps, is Cleave’s description of two opposing fans battling over a famous soccer player’s severed head. “When I saw what they’d been fighting over, I fell unconscious and stayed that way for three days,” Cleave’s narrator writes.
The London-based writer—who has written two well-received books, Little Bee and The Other Hand, since gaining attention for Incendiary—stays true to his letter/novel formula. He periodically brings the narration back to rhetoric directed at bin Laden, but at times these instances seem forced, disrupting an otherwise rich and absorbing story line. In all, Incendiary is a gripping work of fiction that may be jarringly similar to many true stories of a post-9/11 world. The book, which was turned into a movie starring Michelle Williams in 2008, also possesses its own eerie backstory: It was coincidentally first published on July 7, 2005, the day of the infamous suicide bombings of the London train stations.
READ:Chris Cleave reads at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, 228-4651. 7 pm Friday, Jan. 14. Free.