Summary and book reviews of The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan

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
    Paperback:
    Jan 2008, 336 pages

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Book Summary

From the internationally acclaimed author of Gould’s Book of Fish comes an astonishing new novel, a riveting portrayal of a society driven by fear

Richard Flanagan’s previous novels, including Gould’s Book of Fish, have been some of the most acclaimed and beloved works of fiction in recent years. He has been described as “a master of sleight of hand, adept at using words to conjure worlds, an indefatigable artist” by Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times, and his new novel has been hotly anticipated by critics and readers alike. Now he delivers a mesmerizing thriller that demonstrates the breadth of his range and vision.

What would you do if you turned on the television and saw you were the most wanted terrorist in the country? Gina Davies is about to find out when, after a night spent with an attractive stranger, she becomes a prime suspect in the investigation of an attempted terrorist attack. Three unexploded bombs at a stadium, one attractive stranger now missing, and five days on the run, she witnesses every truth of her life twisted into a betrayal. The Unknown Terrorist is a relentless tour de force that paints a devastating picture of a contemporary society gone haywire, where the ceaseless drumbeat of terror alert levels, newsbreaks, and fear of the unknown pushes a nation ever closer to the breaking point.

In The Unknown Terrorist, one of the most brilliant writers working in the English language today turns his attention to the most timely of subjects—what our leaders tell us about the threats against us, and how we cope with living in fear. It is an extraordinary achievement, chilling, impossible to put down, and all too familiar.

Excerpt
The Unknown Terrorist

The idea that love is not enough is a particularly painful one. In the face of its truth, humanity has for centuries tried to discover in itself evidence that love is the greatest force on earth.

Jesus is an especially sad example of this unequal struggle. The innocent heart of Jesus could never have enough of human love. He demanded it, as Nietzsche observed, with hardness, with madness, and had to invent hell as punishment for those who withheld their love from him. In the end he created a god who was “wholly love” in order to excuse the hopelessness and failure of human love. Jesus, who wanted love to such an extent, was clearly a madman, and had no choice when confronted with the failure of love but to seek his own death. In his understanding that love was not enough, in his acceptance of the necessity of the sacrifice of his own life to enable the future of those around him, Jesus is history’s first, but not last, ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Unknown Terrorist is set against a background of draconian anti-terror laws that were passed in Australia in 2005 following the bombings in Bali, Indonesia. Written as a wake-up call for Australians by an Australian, its story is a powerful morality tale for all of us living in increasingly paranoid nations.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review (638 words).

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Media Reviews

The Austin Chronicle - Richard Whittaker
The Unknown Terrorist isn't flawless. Flanagan lets internal monologues spell out too much for the reader, and that same purple prose leads to some skimmable sex scenes. It's also unapologetically Australian. But Flanagan hits hardest when he uses the clear, brusque tone of the Ocker – the average Aussie on the street .... While it may be written as a wake-up call for Australia, it's also an alarming primer on the paranoia that is sweeping the world

The Guardian - James Buchan
Flanagan's English is a barrage of adjectives, adverbs, brand names, similes, metaphors, sunnies, boardies, barbies, westies and Logies, which all curdle together in the incessant Sydney heat. Flanagan's publishers call the book "cacophonous". But the thriller suffers. What French critics call facture - the book's plumbing and wiring - shows signs of carelessness or indifference.

Library Journal
Flanagan's...dystopic tale is raw, timely, cynical, and bleak. Recommended for mature audiences, especially for those unwilling to buy into the mass hysteria of the war on terror.

Booklist - Ian Chipman
[A] timely work of almost pathological anger directed at the stupidity and vileness of society driven to hysteria by a fearmongering media whose fanaticism is neck-and-neck with religious fundamentalism itself.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A true page-turner as well as a timely, pithy critique of celebrity culture and the politics of fearmongering.

Kirkus Reviews
His tender characterization renders [the] tale mightily plausible, and terribly sad. A writer who knows his characters and setting creates a compelling, timely work.

Sydney Morning Herald - David Marr
[D]on't come to Flanagan's novel for any particularly fresh understanding of the way public panic is manipulated in Australia these days. Flanagan's tactical mistake has been to simplify the moral contrasts to such an extent that disbelief soon begins to undermine the narrative. Channel Six and the cops are entirely bad; the Doll and Tariq are entirely innocent. Not even on a slow news day at The Australian could the press beat up this non-story so outrageously.

The Age - James Ley
[I]t is worth emphasising that The Unknown Terrorist is, on a formal level, a more than creditable thriller. In contrast to the rough-hewn extravagance of Gould's Book of Fish and the sinuous lyricism of The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Flanagan has adopted a suitably sharp prose style and the pace is swift. For all its flaws, The Unknown Terrorist is a book I would encourage everyone to read. Like Andrew McGahan's recently published Underground, it takes some large risks in commenting directly upon contemporary politics.

Canberra Times
Not merely a book which forces us to confront our own complicity in reasoning away injustices, The Unknown Terrorist is a fierce portrait of Australian politics and the media... Flanagan's final apocalyptic rendering of inner Sydney, as the Doll lurches through her final hours, is truly stunning... it is a book both crucial and compelling.

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

powerful read
The Unknown Terrorist is the fourth novel by Australian author, Richard Flanagan. After a night of passion with an attractive young stranger, Gina Davies wakes to everyone’s worst nightmare: she finds she has become a terror suspect. Within the space...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Descended from Irish convicts transported to Van Diemens Land (later renamed Tasmania) during the Great Famine, Richard Flanagan was born in his native island in 1961, the fifth of six children. He spent his childhood in the mining town of Rosebery and left school at sixteen to work as a bush laborer. He later attended the University of Tasmania, graduating with first class honours in 1982. The following year he was awarded a Rhodes Scholar to Oxford University.

He wrote four history books before turning to fiction. The Unknown Terrorist is his fourth novel following Death of a River Guide (1994), The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1997) and Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish (2001).

He lives in Tasmania ...

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