Cleave's books are almost as well-known for their cover blurbs as for their content. On the back of The Other Hand, his editors at Sceptre declared: "We don't want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it." It was the start of a marketing phenomenon. The Other Hand, known in the US as Little Bee, tells the interwoven stories of a teenage Nigerian asylum seeker and a London magazine journalist. It has sold more than half a million copies in the UK and was No 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. It is an example of that rarest and most coveted of publishing sensations – the word-of-mouth hit. In the summer of 2009, its sun-drenched cover seemed to peek from every handbag on the tube, every item of carry-on luggage at the airport, enjoying the kind of ubiquity that David Nicholls's One Day would experience in 2010.
Although Incendiary has now also risen to bestseller status, the birth of Cleave's debut was more troubled. It's an epistolary novel addressed by the mother of a four-year-old boy killed in a terrorist attack to Osama bin Laden. It was published on 7 July 2005, the date of the London bombings. Posters advertising the book showed a smoking London skyline with "What if?" plastered across it. They were swiftly pulled down and the novel disappeared from view, a case of too much real life for the reading public to handle. Cleave apparently gave up writing for a while in the wake of this disappointment.
Full review at The Observer.
Chris Cleave will be one of the star attractions at this year's Christchurch Writers Festival