Richard Flanagan, as demonstrated by THE UNKNOWN TERRORIST, is
a remarkable author. Just two pages into this work, he tells us
precisely how it's going to end --- at the conclusion, no less, of
a short dissertation tying Jesus and Nietzsche together and using
love as a string. Thus he sets up a scenario that has the potential
of turning off two large groups of folks and at the same time
losing the browsing reader. No chance of the latter; if you take
the time to read those first couple of pages, you won't be able to
put the book down until you've reached the very end.
The addictive quality of THE UNKNOWN TERRORIST isn't so much the
journey it takes to the predetermined destination as the folks with
whom you're going to be riding. Chief among them is Gina Davies,
best known as "The Doll," the name she uses at the Chairman's
Lounge, an "upscale" pole dancing club in Sydney, Australia. The
Doll, perhaps, is not your typical dancer, given that she has not
only dreams but also goals, and an actual plan for achieving them.
There are things that get in the way --- an addiction to
prescription medication and shopping being the major impediments
--- but she nonetheless is closing in on her ultimate dream when
she has a somewhat casual sexual fling with a gentleman named
Before the following morning is barely over, The Doll finds herself
wanted by the authorities, first as a person of interest and then
as a suspected terrorist. It is here that Flanagan's plot begins to
slightly fray around the edges --- he stacks just a few too many
circumstantial blocks one upon the other to hope to keep them from
tumbling over. But it's fascinating to see the other principals
involved --- the press and law enforcement in particular ---
collaborate both intentionally and accidentally to create a
situation that tragically ruins a life.
The pursuit of The Doll proceeds slowly but inexorably, and as she
goes rapidly from semi-amusement to incredulous disbelief to
fatalistic acceptance of what is happening around her, the reader
gradually learns more about her life, past and present, facts that
make her current situation all the more tragic and yet somehow
inevitable. Flanagan leaves two particularly tragic revelations in
The Doll's life for the final third of the book, so that --- even
with the ending revealed at the beginning --- the surprises, both
good and bad, never seem to stop coming.
THE UNKNOWN TERRORIST is infused with a quiet explosiveness, like a
cranial blood vessel bursting while at rest --- sudden, violent and
final --- a disturbing tale half-whispered and never forgotten.
You'll remember The Doll long after reading about her.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011