Chris Cleave writes a killer opening in “Incendiary,” which the artist (or author or publisher — to whomever, kudos) had the wisdom to use on the book’s back cover.
“Dear Osama they want you dead or alive so the terror will stop,” it begins, mentioning a $25 million dollar reward for information leading to his arrest or capture.
“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.”
I was riveted by the emotion that Cleave reveals through the narrator, even in those short paragraphs. So I picked up the book.
I was unprepared, however, for the book to continue in the same rambling voice for more than 200 pages. Cleave’s entire novel is this letter from the woman to Osama bin Laden, recounting the day of the terrorist attack that killed her family at a London soccer match and her desperate attempts to cope in the aftermath.
Even the dialogue between the woman and other characters — her upper-class neighbors Jasper and Petra, her boss and then boyfriend Terence Butcher — are all without quote marks. It took a good bit of getting used to.
And as the woman deteriorates into madness, it can be frustrating as a reader.
But I have to give Cleave credit, because the emotions of the narrator hit me like a fist again and again. Even as I type this review, I feel a weight of sadness for this fictional character. She is raw and honest and her reaction to terrorist attack and the loss of her family is at times more heartbreaking than the deaths themselves.
It’s not going to be a novel that everyone enjoys — but if you give it a try, stick with it through any initial discomfort with the style. Cleave rewards you in the end.