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
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  • First Published:
    May 2007, 336 pages
    Jan 2008, 336 pages

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Print Excerpt

Perhaps the Doll told the story of her mother’s painting because the painting was for her about the stupidity of hope and holding on to dreams—or large dreams, in any case. Small dreams, small hopes, small things—all these and only these were what life permitted, and therefore to the Doll were permissible. Anything else, anything larger—as her mother’s life so graphically proved—could always be crushed.Which is not to say that the Doll was unhappy; on the contrary. She believed her acceptance of her life was what would guarantee her happiness. She would look straight into the Sydney sun, and never hide from it behind bad pictures of make-believe.

For the Doll was not a dreamer like Jesus or Nietzsche. Rather, she described herself as a realist. Realism is the embrace of disappointment, in order no longer to be disappointed.

“So I came to the city, my friend,” the Doll then told Jodie, “what of it?”

What of it, indeed? She no more understood her new world than she could explain her loathing and fear of her old, but what did it matter? In Sydney, the five or more millions of the westies detest the stinking snobbery of the north and the arrogance of the east, while the million or so of the rich north and east despise the grasping vulgarity and materialism of the poorer west. Nobody will admit they all think much the same, and that what moves and joins everyone in Sydney is one and the same thing: money; and nobody will admit that the only real difference is that up north and east they more or less have more, while out west they more or less have less.

The Doll wasn’t trying to understand any of this, and she would never try. She just wanted to get on, and explanations were simply so much more shit that the mugs talked when all they wanted was to see you with your knickers off.

“I got out of the west,” she would say in a nasal twang with its suggestion of Lebanese and Greek–Australian about the edges of its ululating vowels,“and I got the west out of me.”

It was untrue, like just about everything she said about herself. At the same time as harbouring a deep desire to one day live northside, she carried a chip on her shoulder about those who already did, and she could, simply because of the suggestion of an upper north shore address, quite gleefully open up on a customer as a snob and a wanker. Nothing could induce her to go further out from the central city than Newtown.

“It’s not good for the complexion,my friend,” she would say, as she would say about anything that made her sad, as though saying such a thing explained it all.

On the one hand she took an almost perverse pleasure in mocking other girls from the west for their overdone makeup, short skirts, big belts and the amount of product they plastered over their face and hair. On the other, in addition to her prejudices against west Sydney, the Doll had the average run of west Sydney prejudices about the rest of the world. She would on occasion give vent to being pissed off by slopeheads, dirty boongs, cops, and anyone reading the Sydney Morning Herald.

“I like to think I’m equally racist about everybody,” she would say,“but slimy Lebs I really hate.”

By the time the Doll got out of bed at ten, the day was already pleasantly hot.The steady traffic outside was the gentlest vibration inside her dark apartment. Her thoughts were too loose to describe. The contrast between the heaviness of her Temazepam-induced sleep and the lightness of the day further lifted the good mood in which she had woken. She gave herself over to what was immediate and likeable: that morning she felt a calm and a joy about the city, and this feeling so infected her she didn’t even bother dropping her customary Zoloft. She caught a taxi to Bondi and as she rode between the tall buildings under a blue and brilliant sky, her eyes filled with tears: for no clear reason she felt happy and small happinesses she allowed herself.

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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