The Incendiaries: A Novel by R.O. Kwon

Title: The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon20180909_211221

Publisher: Riverhead Books

Verdict: 3/5

In a nutshell:

Three Korean Americans – Will Kendall, who recently loss his faith in Christianity, met and fell obsessively in love Phoebe Lin. Feeling the guilt over her mother’s death, Phoebe tried to find ways to bury those feelings, which led her to John Leal, the founder of a Christian cult, Jejah.

Will tried to save Phoebe from getting more involved in Jejah, but failed. She drifted further away from him, sinking deeper into the cult.

My thoughts:

“Incendiary – tending to arouse strife, sedition, etc.; inflammatory”.

This novel explored themes such as faith vs fanaticism, love, loss and deception.

It’s the smallest volume of a novel I’ve read so far, and I thought reviewing it would definitely be easier than the rest. But, woah, WAS I WRONG. This, for me, is one of the most difficult reviews to write. I had to mull on it for a couple of days before writing a review.

Before you read this book, do note:

  • You’re going into a story already knowing what is to happen, so no surprises here.
  • Phoebe and John’s side of the story were told by Will (It’s usually along the lines of she said… Or she might’ve said).

Here’s an example in Phoebe’s chapter, as narrated by Will:

Though I’d driven Phoebe here, I was outside, going home. It’s a mistake. I should have stayed, but I didn’t. Instead, I’ll add what details I can.

The fact that Will narrated Phoebe and John’s part when he wasn’t there, or recalling conversations or events based on his memory, made me doubt its accuracy. I mean, how reliable is one’s memory? And his version of them and their stories could be biased, which made me question, are they who they really are as depicted by Will?

  • And conversations had no quotation marks.
  • Kwon’s writing* might take a little getting used to, so the beginning wasn’t easy, for me at least.

* Some examples:

That’s all death is, he said. It’s an unveiling. In time, they’d show like flares.

I cut the strings. I had the balloonatic’s glee. Timelines cracked, shifted; my father pulled his emptied seat to the table.

My takeaway:

Reading this book was like trying to put pieces of a puzzle together. No time, no day, no date mentioned; you’d have to figure out the back and forth yourself. Fragments of memories here and there.

And the book was written in such a way that it kept me at a distance, like an outsider looking in; someone who had been intentionally shut out, just watching the characters assuming their roles, and witnessing the events unfold, making it hard for me to empathize with the characters, and feel part of the story.

I wanted desperately to feel for Phoebe and the emptiness she was experiencing, but I couldn’t, as she was ever-changing in Will’s eyes (popular among friends in the beginning, then aloof and distant towards the end); I wanted to hate John and his cult, but I couldn’t because I wasn’t invested enough in his character. And Will is such a dubious character. He portrayed himself as a filial son and a thoughtful boyfriend, but decided to stalk a girl he spotted in a dark alley. That’s just plain creepy. He also got Phoebe to doing things against her will to get her to leave the cult.

Yet despite the detachment I felt, when the bombing of the clinics happened, I felt angered, frustrated, exasperated; the sort of reaction after reading the papers/watching the news about tragedies like this one. You feel for what happened without knowing any of the victims or people involved.

See the cover of the book? That was how I felt after reading it. My feelings were shattered in every possible direction. Bits and pieces of my emotion scattered everywhere. It’s just unexplainable.

If you’re thinking of reading this novel, enter with an open mind, and be ready for a rather different novel written by a novelist with a very unique style and voice. 

That said, overall, I think it’s a great debut! Curious to find out what she’ll write next!

(Not-so) Fun Fact:

It took Kwon TEN YEARS to write this book.

Intrigued? Curious? Then give this book a shot, if not, skip it.

TRIGGER WARNING: rape; grievous bodily harm (GBH)

Have you read it? If yes, please, please share with me your thoughts!


19 Comments Add yours

  1. Fantastic review! I read this one recently, too. I haven’t posted my review yet. Still pondering this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      TQ! This is the most difficult review I had had to write so far…TQ for dropping by and following 🙂 Followed yours too! I’m looking forward to reading your review! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jee, this is a lovely review! Even with the detachment, you felt intense emotions! I am amazed by books that take an author that many years to write- it shows how much love went into the story- love and effort. I read a debut recently that was pretty darn perfect, and it took the author about that long to write- In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills. I highly recommend it, if you haven’t read it. I am definitely looking forward to reading The Incendiaries! P.s. you should try to link your twitter account handle to your blog, so when I share your blog posts, you get tagged! 😊 It’s under your control settings in the social media section.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      TQ so much Jennifer! Yes, I must say her writing was very unique….But it isn’t something I regret reading 🙂 I’m gonna try the Shadow of 10,000 Hills! Thanks for the recommendation! Ok Jennifer, I’m gonna ask something really ‘stupid’…How do I link my twitter acc handle to my blog? Is there something I must do on my wordpress?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, not stupid at all. Go to My Site>Configure>Sharing>Twitter and you can set it up to link with your Twitter account. Then you’ll be notified of all your shares. Let me know if you have any trouble! ♥️

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Jee Wan says:

        TQ so much Jennifer! It’s been done 😀 I hope I did it correctly! 😀 Thanks again Jennifer and have a great weekend! xoxo

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Uh oh, it didn’t work, Jee! I tried sharing and it’s still tagging wordpress, and not you. I hope you are having a lovely weekend filled with lots of great reads! ♥️

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Jee Wan says:

        aw man….gotta get it fixed 😦 any idea how? TQ and u have a great one too!


      5. When you check that place in your settings that I directed you to, does it have your twitter handle listed there? If not, you may need to go through the steps again. It will actually contact twitter, and you have to authorize Twitter though wordpress. Let me know how it goes. Xoxo


      6. Jee Wan says:

        I’m in Configure, then I clicked Sharing, then connected twitter….Is that correct?

        Liked by 1 person

      7. I emailed you over on Twitter with some screenshots! ♥️

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Jee Wan says:

        YOU ARE THE ABSOLUTE BEST! xoxoxo TQ so much!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Jee Wan says:

      Also about the detachment part (I edited my review a little bit), it’s like after reading the papers/watching the news about tragedies such as this one, where you feel all those anger even not knowing the people involved? That was how I felt…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Loved reading your thoughts as well how similar they are compared to mine! Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Rae Longest says:

    Finally got around to this review and am I glad I did. This book is definitely too challenging for me in more ways than one. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      You’re so welcome, Rae! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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