Friday, March 18, 2011

Incendiary by Chris Cleave (2005)

The subtitle to this book is "A Novel of Unbearable Devastation and Unbounded Love". This phrase immediately made me think of the book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, also published in 2005. But there are more similarities to these novels: both tell the story of a survivor of a terrorist attack in a large city, and how this person deals with the loss of someone they loved.

In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the story is about Oskar, a 9-year-old boy, whose father dies in the September 11 attacks in New York City, and how Oskar deals with this afterwards. (I loved this book and recently blogged about it here.)

In Incendiary, the story follows a young working class mother in London, who loses her 4-year-old son and husband in a fictional terrorist attack during a soccer match between Arsenal and Chelsea. We never learn her name, as the entire book is a letter she is writing to Osama Bin Laden, trying to convince him to stop bombing by showing him how much she loved her little boy. The bulk of the book is her story of how she tries to live after the attacks.

She spends weeks in the hospital, she becomes wrapped up in a sick relationship with a wealthy journalist and his girlfriend, she seems to get back on her feet by taking a job with her husband's old boss at the police, but just seems to keep getting kicked down again. As the novel progresses and her circumstances get worse, she sinks further and further down into desolation, and ends up seeing and talking to her deceased child nearly all the time, which are the most difficult scenes to read, extremely heart wrenching.

The terrorist attacks not only devastate the narrator's life but it also changes the way of life of the whole of London, and this is very realistically portrayed - as a reader, especially if you've ever been to London, you can easily imagine all the paranoid measures that are taken to protect the population. Tragically, the day Incendiary was released was the day of the terrorist bombings in the London underground in July 2005; the author talks about the novel and this horrible coincidence here.

This is a very gritty and dark novel. Where Incredibly Loud is poignantly hopeful and where Oskar is surrounded by people who do love him and want to help him get over the loss of his father, in Incendiary, we feel the complete hopelessness of the narrator and how alone she is - the few people in her life who seem to care about her are actually selfishly using her. She somehow manages to carry on, but as I finished the book I felt sad and deflated for her; she is physically alive but the magnitude of her loss will surely continue to pull her down. I can only think about the Japanese survivors in those towns that were completely washed away by the tsumami last week - how do you rebuild your life after everything is taken away from you?

1 comment:

Jo said...

I really enjoyed this one! I actually think I liked it more than 'The Other Hand/Little Bee'.
I do think it was highly critical of how paranoid society can get, especially the horrific arrage balloons!
Yet her plight was heartbreaking, and it was so sad to see how nobody seemed to want to help her, even those whose job it was to help!