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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After the 1 pm cross, Richard Cody had had enough, and the best of excuses. He had been invited to a lunch at Katie Moretti’s home by the boss of Six’s news and current affairs division, Jerry Mendes, who had been a not unimportant aspect of Katie Moretti’s divorce. Richard Cody was secretly pleased that Jerry Mendes had invited him. It proved, he felt—not least to those to whom he let drop news of the invitation—who was still the senior journalist at Six.

When he finally arrived, Katie Moretti ushered him inside her home—a Double Bay mansion gained in her divorce and refurbished in the contemporary manner of a corporate foyer—and introduced him to her other guests. They came, he learned during the introductions, from advertising and finance and the law. There were also two McKinsey vice presidents—is there anyone, he wondered while shaking hands and smiling, who works for a modern corporation who isn’t a vice president?—a Labor Party senator and a graphic designer.You could have greased a hundred barbies with their conversations.

Still, the food had been exquisite, much good wine had been drunk, and a very fine Armagnac had gone around the table several times. The new furniture and the new paintings and the new crockery and the new caterers all deserved the compliments they received; the view from the dining room over the harbour had rightly been celebrated in several major magazines; and there had even been two wonderful Romanian musicians, a violinist and an accordionist—my gypsies, as Katie Moretti called them—earlier in the afternoon.Yet somehow it all seemed tedious, overwrought and as much effort to endure as a day at work.

No one really cared overly about anything; but they still felt the need to repeat what they had read in the Sydney Morning Herald which repeated the opinions of people at dinner parties such as the one they were now at, all feeling slightly dizzy with the familiar dullness of everything. So many ideas to parade, films to have watched, books to have read, exhibitions and plays to have seen, so much to have to have greedily gobbled—and unless you were a glutton and had swallowed the world whole, you were an ignorant fool, unqualified to say anything.

But all these subjects existed only to lard the hard truth of the lunch: the gossip that traded knowledge for money and power; the finessed probings of position and status; the sly seeking of alliances and linking of chains of patronage; the constant aggrandisement of self, as necessary as a bull elephant seal’s bark.

Richard Cody would have left even earlier than he did, had it not been for the graphic designer. She was dark, with curly black hair and was wearing a short dark brown dress with a low neckline partly covered with black lace. The lace made the curve and shape of her plump breasts look particularly enticing. Her name was—but what her name was, Richard Cody, for all his interest, was unable to remember. Still, even without being able to refer to her by name, Richard Cody flirted in a way he believed would not be noticeable, but which he thought would only seem to others like the courtesy someone would show a stranger.

The day dragged on, the graphic designer seemed at first uninterested, and then politely irritated by Richard Cody’s attention, and when Jerry Mendes took him aside, ostensibly to admire the view from Katie Moretti’s new deck, but rather in order to speak to him in confidence, Richard Cody was both relieved and excited. Perhaps a new program? A promotion? Money? It could only be good, he thought, as he laughed wholeheartedly at some of Jerry Mendes’s wretched jokes.

Jerry Mendes was a fat man with a bad complexion. He appeared to have been assembled out of chipped billiard balls. His reputation was as an arse licker, he never seemed to have much to say, and what he said was uttered in an unpleasant voice that was both resonant and high pitched, and always sounded to Richard Cody like one billiard ball hitting another—clack—and rebounding onto yet another— clock. Still, Richard Cody felt rather important being invited outside for a private chat, and he thought how, in spite of what people said, he was really quite fond of Jerry Mendes. On the deck the heat was like a weight. The sun was so bright that there was no view, only blinding shards of white light ricocheting off the water like shrapnel filling the sky, slashing at the vision of any who looked.They screwed their faces up to narrow their eyes to slits. Like reptiles waiting to strike, they gazed out on Australia, unable to see anything.

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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