What’s it all about?:
A powerful, darkly glittering novel of violence, love, faith, and loss, as a young woman at an elite American university is drawn into acts of domestic terrorism by a cult tied to North Korea.
Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2018 by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, Time, Parade, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, PBS, Vulture, Buzzfeed, BookRiot, PopSugar, Refinery29, Bustle, The Rumpus, Paste, and BBC.
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 Incendiaries is a fractured love story and a brilliant examination of the minds of extremist terrorists, and of what can happen to people who lose what they love most.
What did I think?:
First of all, a huge thank you to Grace Vincent for getting in touch via email and asking me if I’d like to take part in the blog tour for this stunning and powerful debut novel and to Virago for sending a copy my way in exchange for an honest review. To be frank, I’m a sucker for an eye-catching cover and this one certainly does the trick but when I read the synopsis above and realised the themes of religion, the loss of faith and extremism that it would explore, I couldn’t reply fast enough to Grace’s email, enthusiastically registering my interest in reading it. On receiving the book, I have to say, I was surprised at the length – it was a mere 210 pages long and yes, I was kind of nervous. I think if you have a novel that brief, the writing has to be so immaculate that it should pull you in quickly whilst leaving you fairly satisfied at the end. In other words, the author has so much to do in such a short space of time but I was hopeful that a novel named one of the most anticipated books of 2018 by publications like The New York Times could do exactly that.
R.O. Kwon, author of debut novel The Incendiaries.
I don’t want to re-hash the blurb for you right here, Goodreads does a tremendous job of that in the synopsis above so I’d just like to go straight into my thoughts and feelings about The Incendiaries, which in fact the more time I have away from it, the more I find I’m ruminating on the story and admiring the writing. This is *almost* a “read in one sitting,” kind of narrative and in hindsight, I wish I had had the opportunity to do just that but unfortunately work commitments got in the way and I read it in two separate sittings. I fell in love straight away with the writing which is assured, grandiose, thought-provoking and at times, filled with the most vivid imagery that I can’t bear to give it away, it’s definitely something to discover for yourself. All I’ll say on that score is that I connected very personally to a certain point in the text where our narrator, Will is hallucinating and various images related to the situation he finds himself in pop into his visual field. These images are so striking and graphically written I felt as if I was there with Will seeing exactly what he sees and feeling exactly what he feels at that moment in time.
The Incendiaries is incredibly literary in its tone and style and as a result, you have to be prepared for not necessarily getting all the answers you might crave. Phoebe and the leader of the cult she becomes enmeshed in, John Leal are much more enigmatic, mysterious characters that you don’t really find out a whole lot about and whilst that might frustrate certain readers, I enjoyed the vague, almost secretive air of what has happened to these characters in their past and what may have led to them to having the views they now possess or indeed, why they carry out the extreme actions that they choose to do. Our main focus for the narrative is on Will, whom I really felt sympathetic to as he struggled to understand Phoebe and attempted to connect with her on a deeper level but who seemed to always remain rather aloof, almost like mist slipping through your fingers.
I think one of the most fascinating things about this novel was its exploration of faith. Will has previously had faith and lost it and now doesn’t know where he stands on the whole “God” question. Phoebe has been through intense personal struggles of her own and has now found something new to put her faith in but as you can tell from the synopsis, she is incredibly vulnerable and as a result, her faith may be extremely misguided. The author gave an interesting and beautifully frank interview HERE about how she was raised in a very religious household and how she too, has become somewhat disconnected and disillusioned with Christianity which reminded me very much of my own upbringing in Catholicism compared to the confusion I now find myself feeling with religion which started during my teenage years.
The Incendiaries has a quiet, wonderfully confident quality to the writing and although it has moments which are almost like streams of consciousness and an ending which doesn’t necessarily wrap everything up in a neat bow, I thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience and will be watching out for whatever this supremely talented author does next.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
R.O. Kwon’s first novel, The Incendiaries, is published by Riverhead (U.S.) and forthcoming from Virago (U.K.) in September 2018. She is a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, Vice, BuzzFeed, Time, Noon, Electric Literature, Playboy, San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. She has received awards and fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Omi International, and the Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony. Born in South Korea, she’s mostly lived in the United States.
Find R.O. Kwon on her Goodreads page at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16556776.R_O_Kwon
on her website at: http://ro-kwon.com/
on Twitter at: @rokwon
Thank you so much once again to Grace Vincent and Virago for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. The Incendiaries is published on the 6th September 2018 and is available as a hardback and a digital e-book. If you fancy more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!
Link to The Incendiaries on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36679056-the-incendiaries?ac=1&from_search=true
Link to The Incendiaries on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Incendiaries-R-Kwon/dp/0349011877/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535818983&sr=8-1&keywords=the+incendiaries