**Incendiary by Chris Cleave (2005)

I could not put this book down.  This is Cleave’s first book which he wrote several years before Little Bee, but after Little Bee’s success, Incendiary was republished in the US.  Cleave can create characters and get into their head in a way that few other modern authors can do.  The whole story is written in the form of a letter from  a female narrator (whose name is never revealed) to Osama bin Laden.  Her husband and child have been blown up in London at the Chelsea vs. Arsenals football match (a plot loosely based on a bombing in Spain.  The London Tube bombing happened just after he wrote the book), and the letter is essentially the aftermath of her life which spirals downward.  We forget the story is a letter to Osama because we are so entrenched in the events unfolding and the dialogue and emotion and the reality of it–and then every so often, she directly addresses him.  When the narrator is in the hospital getting treatment for her injuries after she has gone to the blown up stadium in search of her husband and four-year old son and was nearly trampled to death, she says: “They moved me to a bed by the window where there was day and night again and I could look out on the whole city.  The hospital I was in was Guy’s.  Maybe you know it Osama? Maybe you’ve studied just how to blow it up?” It’s like a sock in the gut each time she directly talks to him describing the way her small son burned to death holding Mr. Rabbit or the way her husband thought a good London pub should be busy and loud whereas Osama probably thinks a pub “ought to be firebombed and turned into a mosque.”  I absolutely feel like I’m in her head, living her grief, downing her Valium pills, looking at normal things like lamps and clothes and suddenly seeing them burst into flames.  Cleave’s writing is compelling and convincing and beautiful and harrowing.  About twice a page, I have to stop and reread because I cannot believe he can come up with such a perfect image.  It’s like reading poetry.  Most amazing, this is a male writing a female’s story.  He did that in Little Bee as well.  This is a phenomenal–and depressing–story that won all sorts of literary awards. (fiction)

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