Andrew Irwin

Burning Bridges

How to Set a Fire and Why

By

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Lucia Stanton, the teenage protagonist of Jesse Ball’s sixth novel, How to Set a Fire and Why, is intellectually precocious, cynical and broadly uninterested in social niceties. Or, as the blurb regrettably phrases it, ‘a super-smart, funny girl’. Her father is dead and her mother has suffered a mental breakdown, lives in a care facility and bears no resemblance to her former self (in Lucia’s words: ‘dad = dead, mom in a lunatic house’). So our protagonist resides with her impoverished aunt – a ‘dyed-in-the-wool anarchist’ with ‘enough money to live pitifully’ – in a garage with a single bed, converted just to the point of being habitable. After stabbing a classmate with a pencil (‘I am sorry that I only grazed his neck … I thought I could do better than that’), Lucia is forced to enrol in a new school, where she soon discovers its Arson Club. At once, she finds purpose in the promise of destruction. 

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