October 04

The Incendiaries by R.O.Kwon

How is it possible that I have read two books, back to back, about cults?  I assure you I am not interested in joining one, or indeed, starting my own.

The Incendiaries is a different beast to my last review Beautiful Revolutionary but it packs, in fewer pages, the same physical discomfort and disbelief.  Like Beautiful Revolutionary’s author, R.O.Kwon is a master of language and you are coaxed through her slow-burn carnage gently.  You sometimes don’t want to keep going, but Kwon’s taut storytelling pulls you to the next page.

Told in three voices, The Incendiaries reveals the explosive outcome when religious and political single-mindedness and madness partner up.

Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall fall in love at University.  Both are burdened with religious childhoods they desperately try to shake. She is a popular chameleon who blames herself for her mother’s death while he is a misfit having bolted from Bible College.

Enter John Leal – the charismatic (oh, aren’t they all !) founder of a secretive and dangerous cult tied to North Korea.  He offers Phoebe a refuge for her grief – or more truthfully – he offers her a place where he can manipulate her into giving him all of her money and her sanity.

Having revolted against religious indoctrination at Bible College, Will is less susceptible to the pro-life and extreme posturing of John Leal, but as Phoebe is drawn deeper and deeper to the darkness of Leal’s preachings, Will starts to fight….and loses.

What follows are a series of deadly bombings at abortion clinics where women lose their lives and Phoebe – firmly implicated – disappears.  Will becomes obsessive in his efforts to locate her even when he believes she is guilty.   It is a soul-destroying but predictable conclusion.

The Incendiaries is fabulous book – the author is as clever and seductive a writer as any I have raved about here.  Her storytelling combines sensitivity with savagery and she has haunting and piercing observations about people and the world we find ourselves in.

The chapters are not long.  They propel you between the three perspectives and each one locks you further and further into their story, until you feel tied and bound.  Unable to escape.  Which I guess is what Phoebe and Will themselves felt.

Put R.O.Kwon on your authors-to-watch list and put The Incendiaries on your bookshelf.

As for me, if I unknowingly choose a new book that involves yet another cult, well, I am taking myself off for a check.

And that is my 2 cents worth.