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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The truth was that Ferdy had left his job at a pearl oyster hatchery in Broome a decade earlier with a bootload of Kimberley dope. He drove two thousand kilometres south, traded the dope and made enough to refill the boot with ecstasy he got through a contact in the Gypsy Jokers. He crossed the interminable length of the Nullarbor and made his way along the Great Ocean Road.

He liked to say he arrived in Melbourne in a ’73 Charger and left it a month later in a ’96 Beemer, making his way in that same year to Sydney, where he bought a half-share and the job as manager of a run-down bar, and invested what was left of his new wealth on refitting the bar with felt-lined tables and brass poles in the manner of the pole dancing clubs that were then becoming so popular. He would later recall those early years with the tone of feigned humility so many self-made men feel necessary:

“We had our hopes.”

Hopes were unnecessary, for the times, as he frequently told his customers,were his. In the Broome oyster hatchery he had spent the first fifteen years of his working life as a technician breeding vats of microscopic algae to be fed to juvenile oysters. All that mattered in that job had been getting several constants right, and thereafter never varying them. Ferdy applied the same principles to his management of the Chairman’s Lounge.

For he, a man come out of the red mystery of the Kimberley’s pindan dust into the blue certainty of the Kings Cross night, sensed in Sydney that the possibility of human community was a pointless dream, that cities revealed that men shared with algae the most natural destiny: meaninglessness confused by the inexplicable need to live. There were no words for any of it, but a pole dancing club seemed to him a better place than an algal fermentation vat to watch its cracked unravelling. That was what Ferdy felt. What he said, on the other hand, was banal, but not without its own related truth. “It’s all in the show,” Ferdy would say. And indeed it was.

Until the moment, a little after 7 pm, that he walked along the red carpet of the Chairman’s Lounge, headed down past the purple neon tubes and pulled from his Armani pants’ pocket a twenty-dollar note to pay a smiling woman the entry fee, Richard Cody’s day had been unhappy. He had slept poorly,woken to yet one more argument with his wife, then been called out by Six’s news producers to anchor the live crosses from a terrorist bomb scare at Homebush Olympic stadium.

There was a new makeup girl who had made his hair look ridiculous, then the OB van kept losing contact with the studio on the live crosses, and the whole story in any case quickly grew repetitive, then pointless: three bombs had been found, each in a kid’s backpack.The crowd was evacuated, the area sealed off. Nothing else would happen now.

He had continued saying the same thing over and over with his stupid hair and the studio dropping in and out, while a string of so-called experts—mostly consultants wanting a job as an expert in security, terror, politics—commented on each other’s remarks, which in turn repeated and elaborated the few brief comments made by the police and government spinners, all pretending that in this vortex of nonsense might be found some sign predicting what might next occur.

Only his Armani summer suit didn’t let him down, enduring the heat without crease or crumple. In middle age he had taken refuge in elegance, even when the temperature had not dropped below thirty-eight for five days and the humidity was stuck at ninety-four per cent. As his body thickened and leathered, as his hair thinned, Richard Cody believed his fine clothes helped assert a persuasive idea of himself as charming, sophisticated, clever: in short that his agreeable clothes helped the world concur with his agreeable idea of himself.

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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