Thursday, 22 April 2010


After being completely enthralled by Chris Cleave’s mesmerizing novel The Other Hand, I couldn’t wait to read his debut novel Incendiary. As fate would have it, I received it as birthday gift in January and put it somewhere near the bottom of my TBR pile seeing as I’d never heard of it and wasn’t exactly longing to read it. If only I had known then what a brilliant writer Chris Cleave is.

After losing her husband and son during a fictional terrorist attack at a football game in London, an ordinary woman decides to write a letter to Osama bin Laden in order to cope with her grief. This letter which portrays her loss, guilt and descent into madness is Incendiary.

Filled with heartache, humor and humanity at its best and worst, Incendiary was a surprising and original novel with an uncanny protagonist who was committing adultery when she saw “her chaps” explode on the television. She isn’t depicted as a saint or a martyr but like he did in The Other Hand, Cleave has created a real woman (dialect and all) filled with fear, passion and insecurities which makes us readers not only sympathize but also understand her motives and thoughts. In the end there are no good guys, no bad guys, only perpetually flawed people who are trying to make sense of the world.

This unnamed young widow tries to explain the effect of this indescribable tragedy on her life and on London but what starts as an honest, brutal, beautiful and above all brave novel suddenly takes a turn for the worst. Don’t get me wrong, Incendiary is a really good book but this painful exploration of loss and paranoia soon turns into a slightly implausible (but entertaining) tale filled with an obsessive coke sniffing suitor, his back-stabbing fashionista girlfriend, a caravan loving cop, some espionage and a devastating revelation that leads to more chaos and insanity. Fortunately, I crave a daily dose of madness.

Then Incendiary's uncertain future took a turn for the worst when they came up with the brilliant idea of turning it into a movie, a harrowing fate every book eventually faces. After watching the hack job Hollywood did with The Time Traveler’s Wife, I swore never to watch an adaptation again but seeing as I have no self control, I watched it anyway.

Incendiary, the movie, was brought to the screen by Sharon Maguire and stars Michelle Williams as the grieving widow and Ewan McGregor as her lover / investigative journalist. The plot is similar to the book up to the attack but then turns into something completely different and tedious. Whereas the book was slightly twisted, the movie is simply boring and leaves out 75% of the original story and rapes the remaining 25%. Instead of getting all psycho-sexual on us, Michelle and Ewan go in search of the terrorists while grieving and ultimately getting on with their lives, which is light years away from the original ending.

Incendiary’s unusual plot finally, wasn’t the only reason it made international headlines in 2005. The day this novel was released (7 July) also happened to be the day that the London public transport system was bombed, adding to this book’s universal acclaim.

Overall, Incendiary is a bold and wonderful debut novel that is both shocking and very unexpected (literally). Just avoid the movie at all costs, unless you want to see Michelle Williams topless then by all means, enjoy.

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