Chris Cleave is good. Really good. There was a lot of excitement about him when he was first discovered. I've read two of his three novels, each one very different, both utterly absorbing as a result of the sheer simplicity of his writing. These novels don't tackle easy subjects, Incendiary, the impact of a terrorist attack on London, and The Other Hand the ripples that warp the lives of people involved in a murderous violence.
Incendiary is written as a letter to Osama bin Laden from a white working class mother whose son is killed in a terrorist attack on the Emirates football stadium. The story of its publication is almost as absorbing as the one in the novel as the book's launch date was due to be 7th July 2005. The arrival of this new writing talent was trailed across London at the time with posters on the Underground showing a pall of smoke over the city skyline with the tag-line - What If...? With London attacks of 7/7 the book's birth didn't go to plan, major chains deciding not to stock it out of respect for the families of the victims. It also, as a result, provoked a range of different views from critics, from high praise to low-brow mud-slinging.
From a somewhat calmer 2013, a world away from the febrile atmosphere of 2005 - we'd had the 9/11 attacks, the bombs in Madrid, Bali and London and Iraq was going to hell in a hand-cart with no foreseeable way out - Incendiary can be seen for what it is; a powerfully simple narrative exploring the impact of hatred and violence on one ordinary woman and those around her. In her letter to Osama she relates the tail of the murder of her son and husband at the football when the home-stand is blown to smithereens by a co-ordinated suicide bomb attack.
The trauma, grief and terror are powerfully portrayed. Cleave's exceptional talent keeps us in the mind of that young, brutalised mother as she tries and fails to come to terms with what's happened. Cleave's use of her vernacular, as well as the simple and sometimes cack-handed metaphors she chooses, add to incredible verisimilitude of her voice. She comes off the page at us and like all great first person narratives within a few pages we are wedged tightly inside the protagonist's worldview. There's much to admire here and it is easy to see what the publishing world were so excited about back in 2005.
Transformative fiction as its best, taking us into a world we'd not wish on our worst enemy. The unfolding story enables us to reflect upon and experience the world from another's shoes in a way that portrays the impact of such atrocities in a manner so much deeper than the 24 hour media cycle. Evocative, powerful and haunting.