I’ve been working on widening my reading this year. Last year I read a lot of books by and about strong women, which is always awesome, but this year I’ve been a bit more conscious of the types of stories I consume and the cultures I’m familiar with. This year I’ve been reading the likes of The Displaced, The Leavers, The Best We Could Do, The Good Son, Dear Ijeawele, Home Fire and now The Incendiaries.
The Incendiaries is a highly praised debut from R.O. Kwon, published tomorrow in the UK.
Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.
Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group—a secretive extremist cult—founded by a charismatic former student, John Leal. He has an enigmatic past that involves North Korea and Phoebe’s Korean American family. Meanwhile, Will struggles to confront the fundamentalism he’s tried to escape, and the obsession consuming the one he loves. When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears. Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.
The opening chapter is explosive, literally, as we begin at the end, so to speak, with the previously mentioned bombing. The story then jumps about, as Will recalls the details of his relationship with Phoebe, looking for clues as to whether she could possibly be responsible for such a thing.
The chapters alternate focus on Will, John and Phoebe, but Will tells most of the story throughout, using reported speech. He recounts moments and conversations with Phoebe, admitting at times that even he isn’t sure if he’s remembering things right. So if even he’s not sure about what really went down, how can we be?
The Incendiaries is a fairly short novel, at a little over 200 pages, but it’s a slow burner. With the peak of the action taking place right at the very start, most of the story was given to revealing Will and Phoebe’s back stories in a rather fragmented way, moving towards a somewhat unsatisfying ending.
It was the blurb which piqued my interest and encouraged me to take part in this blog tour, and it’s the themes which remain with me after finishing the book. It’s the ideas that haunt me rather than the characters. Phoebe reminded me a bit of Parvaiz in Home Fire and how vulnerable people can be susceptible to radical ideas. We like to think we’re strong-minded and can’t be so easily influenced by others but maybe we don’t really know what we’re capable of when we’re feeling lost and someone offers to fill the void.
*I was sent a copy of this book for review purposes. All thoughts are my own
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