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Incendiary [Paperback]

Chris Cleave
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)

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Incendiary Incendiary 3.7 out of 5 stars (87)
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Book Description

6 April 2006
Angry, funny, controversial and unpredictable, "Incendiary" will be one of the most talked-about books of 2005. Not since Alex Garland's "The Beach" has a debut novel used such compulsive storytelling to convey a distopian vision of moral degradation. Not since Roddy Doyle's "The Woman Who Walked Into Doors" has a male writer created such a powerful female voice. From her first sentence, Cleave's narrator seduces the reader with her biting, deadpan wit, her no-nonsense attitude and her love for her son. Over the next 250 pages, we must watch her suffer. Eleven suicide bombers turn the stadium into an inferno during an Arsenal-Chelsea match. Her husband and four-year-old son are blown to smithereens. She is left with an empty ex-Council flat in Bethnal Green and nothing to live for. And so she writes Osama Bin Laden a letter to tell him just what she thinks, a letter that takes the reader into a frightening maze of class-bound relationships - and right to the dark heart of a London under siege. A unique, twisted powerhouse of a novel, "Incendiary" has had readers staying up all night to finish it, then up half the next night arguing about it. Not since Martin Amis has a writer pinned a generation down on a mat like this and refused to allow it up till it admits it's rotten.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New edition edition (6 April 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099490544
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099490548
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 901,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chris Cleave's debut novel INCENDIARY was a prize-winner and international bestseller, published in 20 countries.
Inspired by his early childhood in West Africa, THE OTHER HAND is his second novel. He is married with two children, and lives in Kingston-upon-Thames. He keeps a website at and can be found on

Product Description


"Feels absolutely authentic" -- Independent On Sunday

"a novel to race through". -- Matt Warman, The Daily Telegraph

Compelling fiction. -- Katie Owen, Sunday Telegraph, 9 April 06

Book Description

The extraordinary first novel from the author of THE OTHER HAND --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad, terrifying, funny and completely gripping 26 July 2005
Even without the dreadful coincidence lent by its publication day and the London atrocities occurring together, Incendiary is a truly powerful book.
Using jauntily naive language from a female central character Cleaver has written a book that is both laugh-out-loud funny, deeply unsettling and terribly sad. The book takes the form of a long letter to Osama Bin Laden written by a woman whose "chaps" -- her policeman husband and four year old son -- were incinerated in a terrorist attack on a London football stadium. The letter recounts her experiences after the deaths and her descent into the madness brought about by her grief. Without her chaps she has no real reason to live -- and certainly no reason to remain sane in a world going steadily mad all by itself.
The terrifying, sad story is woven around with a descant of humour, some sharp one-liners, bitingly accurate perceptions and gripping story-telling. Using the device of an uneducated but very intelligent woman as his narrator allows Cleave to write some wonderful descriptions of people that use simile and metaphor to great effect, producing really great writing that delights with its accuracy and perceptiveness. Very, very clever; very very good.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars hmmm.... 28 May 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am so torn with regards to this book, that in a way I would like to write 2 reviews. In some ways I think the book is brilliant. In others it is frankly terrible and more than a little distasteful.

The book is extremely gripping and I was never bored while reading it, not for a second. The style is gripping and original, with a funny and original central voice. The author has a vivid attention to detail, painting scenes with simplistic but striking details. It is also very touching at times, especially towards the beginning.

However, I would take issue with the morals of the main character, and the implication that they are typical of working class mothers. In particular, she leaves her little boy alone in the house, to go to the pub where she subsequently cheats on her husband. This alone made me violently dislike her. That the author would like us to view her as innocent and naive is distasteful in my opinion. She supposedly cared for her husband and little boy, but in actual fact she didn't seem to care at all, she just needed them, which is a different thing. The author tried to make it seem less seedy by emphasising the fact that she likes sex with strangers if it's 'gentle'; but it is seedy nonetheless. She is even having sex with a stranger at the moment her husband and son are blown up. I don't expect fictional characters to be perfect - in fact it would be extremely annoying if they were - but I expect them to have at least some redeeming features if I am to care what happens to them. This main character is a neglectful mother and wife, she is needy and selfish and seemingly obsessed with sex, even while she is grieving.

I would also say the book is unrealistic in a number of ways.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A few commas would not have gone amiss 6 Dec 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Like many others, I am in two minds about this book.

It's about a woman that loses her husband and son in a terrorist event at a football game and subsequently develops post traumatic stress disorder, with a few twists and turns that don't usually happen to the average griever thrown in for good measure.

I didn't tire of the story and read it in a couple of sittings. However this could have been because I felt like I was careening through the text at a rate of knots due to the lack of commas put in by the author. I can only infer that this was one of his clever devices used to remind us that the main character was working class, as well as reminding us a few times that she likes to cook breaded chicken products, and say "on account of" a lot. I felt ambivalent towards her; she was clearly intended to be complex - simple and straightforward, yet worldly wise. This could have been explored more, rather than tritely alluding to a sexual abuse incident by one of mum's boyfriends when she was a teen - the layers needed to be built up more.

I found Jasper and Petra to be very black and white characters; it was difficult to reconcile their actions as they were either being extremely pleasant, or extremely awful.

With that being said, there were things that Cleave did well. I found his descriptions of the disasters vivid, and thought that he did a good job of conveying the grief of a mother, and her decline after the post traumatic stress disorder set in.

There are books that are far worse than this, the author has potential but perhaps should not write out of his comfort zone in future. An easy read for a long journey or holiday - if you don't mind depressing subject matter.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerising 9 Feb 2006
By A Customer
Incendiary is one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read. Daring, provocative and sometimes heartbreaking, Cleave's narrator had me gripped from beginning to end. Cleverly told and often uproariously funny, this multi-layered story reveals itself as an impassioned denouncement of terrorism, and a warning that our emotional responses to terrorism risk destroying our own way of life. Like the issue of terrorism itself, this is a complex and divisive book, and people will either love it or hate it. Some people won't get it at all. Read it, and decide for yourself. You won't be wasting your time. I was up till the small hours reading Incendiary - it's that compelling.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very pleased
Published 2 months ago by Mrs Lesley S Larsen
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Couldn't put it down. Can't wait to read more of his stories. A really really good read. I highly recommend it.
Published 5 months ago by Ms Denise M Bamber
3.0 out of 5 stars A first book, but not the author's best
I thought "The Other Hand" was briliant. moving and very memorable, so I backtracked and bought Incendiary. I've only just read it and was very disappointed. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Book chatter
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic....
one of the best and most memorable books I have ever read.... I even read it twice which is most unusual for me...
Published 6 months ago by audrey mckie
5.0 out of 5 stars I found this on a hotel shelf and now reccommending to all my friends...
A really exceptional, original story, I'm buying this for my son - I found a copy on holiday in Lanzarote to read while my kindle was charging. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Karolina Knapton
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Entertaining novel with plenty of pace, if a little hard to swallow at times. Some moments of genuine pathos and a likeable protagonist.
Published 6 months ago by Fute
4.0 out of 5 stars What a fabulous debut
Chris Cleave is good. Really good. There was a lot of excitement about him when he was first discovered. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Andrew D Wright
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking from start to end
The moment I finished this book I knew I would be writing a good review. Just as I was about to write it I noticed quite a few 1 star reviews so I decided to take a look. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Lee
4.0 out of 5 stars First-person narrative done differently
My sister recommended Incendiary to me, 'you've got to read this'. I tend to read thrillers and crime fiction (Brookmyre, Hayder etc) but am open for suggestions. Read more
Published 14 months ago by A88
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!
I loved this book for it's style of writing,excellent storyline and comic timing. A great take on the class divide.
Published 14 months ago by iTricia
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