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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“Beautiful, eh?” Jerry Mendes said.

“Exquisite,” Richard Cody replied, his head already beginning to ache from the inescapable glare.

“Gotta fag, Richie?”

Richard Cody loathed being called Richie. He wearied of Jerry Mendes always asking this same question and him always giving the same answer: he didn’t smoke. He longed for shade.

Jerry Mendes went inside and returned with a lighted cigarette, took one big drag and, as the smoke meandered out of his mouth, flicked the cigarette over the deck and into the blinding white light of Sydney.

Then he turned to Richard Cody and told him that exciting things were afoot at Six, that the board was keen to spend more on current affairs in the chase for ratings. He waited for Richard Cody to say something, and so Richard Cody said something, but it was like telling Jerry Mendes he didn’t smoke, for Richard Cody knew whatever he said at this point was irrelevant.

Jerry Mendes then told Richard Cody that he was being transferred from his job as anchor for the network’s flagship weekly current affairs program, This Week Tonight, to their nightly current affairs show, Undercurrent, but not as the anchor, which Richard Cody would have found acceptable, but as “senior network correspondent”. He was being replaced at This Week Tonight by the young ABC newsreader Zoe LeMay.

Jerry Mendes used all sorts of empty phrases—reinvention . . . new demographic . . . we are all family . . . synergy—to dress up what they both knew to be a demotion.All Richard Cody could hear was clack-clock-clack and the sound of something sinking. Zoe LeMay! A bimbo even blondes looked down on! It was his face, his age, he knew it. He went to protest, but Jerry Mendes cut him off:

“Well, Richie, if you want it different, you’re going to have to get off your arse. Take some responsibility for yourself.Work your way back.”

Richard Cody completely forgot how only a few moments earlier he had been rather fond of Jerry Mendes, for now he hated him from the bottom of his heart, hated him completely and utterly, and loathed his grasping mistress, Katie Moretti,and all their awful, dull friends.What made it even worse was that Jerry Mendes, finally weary himself of his own nonsense, had abruptly changed the subject and was now, his repulsive hand on Richard Cody’s shoulder, philosophising about journalism as if they were brothers in arms.

“These fuckwits who think it’s about the truth, you know where they go wrong?” Jerry Mendes said, neither waiting for nor wanting an answer.“They think the truth has power, that it will carry everything before it. But it’s crap. People don’t want the truth, you know that, Richie?” Richard Cody knew he was meant to say nothing. He said nothing.

“People want an exalting illusion, that’s what they want. Find that sort of story, ginger it up with a few dashes of fear and nastiness, and you’ve hit gold.True gold.” This time Richard Cody knew he was meant to say something. He searched for what he hoped was the right note of irony.

“Truth is what we turn into gold, Jerry,” he said. Jerry Mendes laughed so much his laughter turned to wheezing and then a thin, high-pitched choking noise that was only alleviated by an inhaler he wrestled from a trouser pocket. He sucked on it as if it were a giant lollipop. “Journalism, Richie,” said Jerry Mendes when he was once more able to speak, his voice now thin and oddly shrill, “is the art of making a sow’s ear out of a silk purse.”

Walking the length of the Nullarbor Plain did not offer a more dispiriting prospect to Richard Cody than staying one more moment at Katie Moretti’s lunch party. And yet, he stayed in order to impress Jerry Mendes that he was a remarkable man who deserved better, so that he would not be thought to be doing what he now desperately wished to do—leaving in a rage. To distract himself he went back to flirting with the graphic designer.

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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