Book Review : "Incendiary"

Incendiary (Book Club Readers Edition)Incendiary by Chris Cleave

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My edition kicks off with about four thousand pages of glowing blurbs from all over hell and creation, with more plastered onto the back cover. You WILL like this book, they seem to say, or you're just a dummy.

The entire book is a letter to Osama Bin Laden from a woman whose husband and son were killed in an act of terror. I was expecting 9-11. Silly me. It's all based on a made-up bombing of an Arsenal football match at Emirates Stadium. Thus, we get all of it in East End London slang, most of which was lost on my American ears (so to speak). All right, well, that's as may be. I've got much bigger complaints with this book.

The narrator/letter writer--I would tell you her name, but she apparently hasn't got one--lost her husband--similarly nameless--and her boy--ditto--in the bombing. They are always referred to as "my husband" and "my boy" throughout, even though everyone else in the book has names. I suppose this is a Clever Author Device for making them all Everyman. Whatever.

WhatsHerName, our hostess, should be hugely sympathetic, but there are problems. I get that the Clever Author didn't want to make her some sort of plaster saint. But WhatsHerName is just a smoking pile-up. When Emirates blows up, she is watching the match on tv while being fingered by her new boyfriend (?) she met the night before in a bar and slept with because she was nervous due to her nameless husband being a bomb squad guy and he was out on a call. Nervous, I get. Sleeping with a SNEERING TOFF (her words) who hit on her on a bet with his friends, I don't get.

After having gotten bashed up trying to get into the flaming stadium to find her family, WhatsHerName spends a month or so in hospital, pukes on Prince William's shoes, downs pills in quantity, and considers jumping out the window, but doesn't, because the reader hasn't suffered enough yet. Upon release, she proceeds directly to the police station where she is hired on the spot by her husband's former superior. A tiresome affair quickly ensues. This woman--and let's bear in mind that this is NOT a woman, actually, but a man writing a woman character--sleeps with any man who's not nailed down, it seems, even going out of her way to cover for a cokeheaded rapist who corners her in a bathroom stall. Oh wait, that's Boyfriend #1. Well anyway.

WhatsHerName has a smart mouth and has no hesitation putting others in their place whether out loud or only in her thoughts as expressed to Osama. Never mind that she is a boozy, pill-popping, slutty, corked-out disaster herself. (Have I mentioned that, incredibly, this terror widow manages to be unsympathetic?) Despite these minor drawbacks, we are to believe that she is irresistible to men for some reason. This, even despite a scene in which she sees herself in a mirror and realizes how badly she has let herself go.

It took me two and a half weeks to slog through the first two thirds of this rather short novel. However, I did finish off the final third in a sitting. Part of this was because I so dearly wished to be rid of WhatsHerName and Mr. Cleave. But, I confess, the story did finally pick up, even as WhatsHerName went further and further off the rails, without, of course, losing her man-killing charms or having any trouble obtaining new jobs despite talking out loud to her nameless son who isn't there, being intoxicated pretty much constantly, and trying to off Boyfriend #1's girlfriend with gasoline and a lighter, all after ruining Boyfriend #2 in ways too tawdry to go into here. Oh all right...think cheap hotel room, drunken sex, and a camera hidden inside of her nameless son's half-charred toy rabbit Mr. Rabbit. Okay, never mind after all.

Here's *my* blurb. Skip this BS. You're welcome.

View all my reviews


I'm so glad you didn't like the book. Your review was a hoot. :)
hedgewitch said…
Oh those heroines who refuse to off themselves because we have not yet suffered enough. How wearisome they are. I wonder if there are really women out there like this, but then I realize there are--in weird men's heads. This book sounds totally like it's best quality may be the ability to fill up the recycle bin with one last item. Thanks for, as always, making a vivid experience of even a lackluster novel.
Sioux Roslawski said…
So, you're saying I should run out and order a couple dozen copies of this book (for people I don't like)?
Thanks for the review. Love love, Andrew. Bye.