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The story of an on-the-run – but innocent – terrorism suspect, Richard Flanagan’s The Unknown Terrorist makes TBS’ latest book review from Rainer the Cabbie a must read.
Australian writer Richard Flanagan’s work or name was something I wasn’t really familiar with until a neo conservative scribe labelled him as “the darling of the left”.
Knowing I must have missed something good, I read his Booker Prize winning novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a book that was one of the best pieces of literature I have come across for a while.
Flanagan’s style, his descriptions of human emotions, values, understandings, evaluations and explanations of behaviour, all set in a wartime novel about Australian soldiers being prisoners on the Burma railway, impressed me massively. Anyone reading this book not being moved to tears by these men being back at home in Hobart, smashing the window of the local fish and chip shop for their own reasons and the aftermath of same, does not have a heart beating in their body.
After this I just had to read more of Flanagan’s books, and followed up with his novel The Unknown Terrorist.
This novel, quite different from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, impressed me even more. The story is set in Sydney, the place I’ve driven a cab around for decades, observing the people that live and work in this city at close range. I could not believe how much of an insight and understanding Flanagan, a Tasmanian living in Hobart, has about this place. His description of Sydney, its landscape, environment and inhabitants, is so accurate I gladly sent him my epaulettes as a souvenir.
The Unknown Terrorist follows the story of Gina Davies, twenty-six, beautiful and known to all as Doll, who makes her living as a pole dancer in an exclusive Kings Cross club. Gina has big dreams and a plan for her life, what it will become, and a financial goal nearly completed to set herself up.
After a steamy one night stand with a handsome stranger, Gina is named as a person of interest in a terrorist hunt and her life is turned upside down. Planning to turn herself in to prove the mistake that has been made she suddenly gets caught in a web of deceit, on account of a media circus that paints her as the unknown terrorist, aka “The Black Widow”, and she goes on the run.
The reaction she sees all around her, the perception of her for a crime she didn’t commit, is best described in her own words:
…she had the off idea that the terrorism question had become a fad, like body piercing or flares; a fashion that had come and would go like this seasons colours. Maybe, thought the Doll, it was just like fashion, it was simply about a few people building careers, making money, getting power, and it wasn’t really about making the world safer or better at all. Maybe it was like Botox, something to hide the truth.
The Unknown Terrorist gets ten out of ten from the cabbie. I also would like to thank the journalist that alerted me to the stylish, intelligent, insightful and thought provoking work that Richard Flanagan produces. With this you certainly have brought something of value to my life.