Excerpt from The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Unknown Terrorist

A Novel

by Richard Flanagan

The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan X
The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan
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  • First Published:
    May 2007, 336 pages
    Jan 2008, 336 pages


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And then the water began pulling them apart, a wall of water bearing down and pulling them backwards. They began rising with the wave like sea creatures, and she just had time to give a small smile before she made the split-second decision to catch the wave. She jackknifed and threw herself into the wave’s wall the moment before it broke. She felt it lift and hurtle her in its wild aerated force back towards the beach. She seemed to be in the wave for the longest time.

When the wave’s power was almost spent and she could feel it bottoming out, agitated sand swirling around her skin, she stood up, gulped a few times, and with smarting eyes searched the glaring sea around and behind her.The slender young man was nowhere to be seen. She half-expected him to surface out of the water and grab her unawares. But he had disappeared.Though the Doll would not admit she was disappointed, she spent some time scanning the waves and wash for his lean body before giving up and going in. She went back up the beach and lay with Wilder and a now subdued Max. The sun beat down on them, she slumbered a little, and when she woke, it was time to leave and get to the Chairman’s Lounge to start her early shift.

How the Chairman’s Lounge held on to its reputation as one of the most upmarket pole dancing clubs in Sydney was an achievement not easily explained.Though it had twice won Eros Foundation awards for “Hottest Naughty Nite Spot (NSW)” and once been awarded an impressive five breast rating in Hustlaz.com Adult Almanac, such gongs meant nothing to anybody other than on the award evening, and, as the Doll herself pointed out, who didn’t win prizes these days? But like much else, the puzzle of its prominence was entwined with the mystery of money. By the straightforward expedient of charging twice the admission price of the other clubs and an even more exorbitant mark-up on drinks, the Chairman’s Lounge kept its status bolstered and its punters happy, because they would not throw away such money unless it was one of the best clubs in Sydney and therefore worth every vanishing dollar.

Each day at noon the head bouncer, Billy the Tongan—a large man inevitably clad in an immaculate white tracksuit, gold chains and knock-off Versace sunnies—created the entry to the Chairman’s Lounge by rolling a length of grubby red carpet out of the ground storey of an old hotel into the border country that bestrode Kings Cross and Darlinghurst. Here seemed to be the perfect position for a business that specialised in pompous cock teasing. The city centre was only a short walk distant, while a block away were the brothels and sex shows and streetwalkers of the Cross—an area chiefly known for a dying retail line in old world sleaze, its major feature being a run-down strip mall that parted the hillock on which it sat like a bad mohawk. Here the junkies and the pros, the pervs and the homeless, looked out over their daily shrinking atoll with as much bewilderment and as little hope as the inhabitants of some South Seas micro-nation, knowing whatever the future might hold, it held nothing for them.

Around them, washing up from the gentrified tenements and newly built designer apartments of Darlinghurst and the ceaselessly refurbished mansions of Elizabeth Bay, rushed the incoming tide of property values and inner-city hypocrisy, rising as inexorably and as pitilessly as the nearby globally warmed Pacific Ocean.

Along either side of the carpet that somehow joined all these disparate worlds, Billy the Tongan would set up the brass poles down which he ran an ornate gold-coloured rope. Inside, the true nature of the club began asserting itself. A strip of bare purple neon tubes ran like tracer fire down the half-dozen steps that led into the entry foyer. Here arose the deafening break-beat of doof music and the insistent scratching of the entrance cash register attended by a semi-naked woman charged with undertaking the first fleecing. Beyond this foyer, along a corridor and around a corner, was the main lounge with its scattering of purple felt-lined dancing tables, each replete with a brass pole. If in the dusty light of morning the club had all the charm and erotic allure of an Eastern European airline’s executive lounge, this too was for a purpose. For its dirty, dun-coloured tub chairs and its generic bar and its featureless tables, its unremarkable nature and meanness of finish pretended to be no other than what it was, more of the bland sameness that was the world of those who came and watched. In its familiarity it relaxed its customers, as in its meanness it reassured them. Its manager, Ferdy Holstein, knew that any attempt to alter this relentless dullness and ordinariness would be an attempt to raise the tone that could only prove an overwhelming commercial error. Ferdy claimed to come out of rock’n’roll, and frequently dropped names the Doll had never heard of. Ferdy wore Mambo shirts and thought it was fashion, not knowing it was middle age.

Excerpted from The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan © 2007 by Richard Flanagan. Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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