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Publisher's Summary

An extraordinary achievement, The Unknown Terrorist is chilling, impossible to put down, and all too familiar.

What would you do if you turned on the television and saw you were the most wanted terrorist in Australia? Gina Davies is about to find out.

From the author of the international bestsellers The Sound of One Hand Clapping and Gould's Book of Fish comes a fast-paced thriller that paints a devastating picture of contemporary Australia.

Five days, three unexploded bombs, and every truth of your life turned into a lie. What would you do?

©2007 Richard Flanagan (P)2007 Bolinda Publishing

Critic Reviews

" A true page-turner as well as a timely, pithy critique of celebrity culture and the politics of fearmongering." ( Publisher's Weekly starred review)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Beautiful, Gritty, Thought Provoking

This book moves a person outside of their comfort zone and into a world in which they may have to realize that in their everyday life they may have been one of the villians in a parallel to this story. The book is beautiful in the detail it captures, in the people and scene it creates, in the emotion it evokes. I am still a bit haunted by this book, and for a piece of fiction to challenge how I see the world is very uncommon. This book does that. I found the style of the book interesting and the ability of the book to design the players from the fabric of reality accurate and disturbing. I would recommend that you read this book, it is an excellent piece of literature that opens a door to a world most of us will not venture into and yet we will see vignetts of our own world from time to time as events collide. Maybe, after you read this book you will, like myself question from time to time how you respond to what you are told.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Joe Kraus
  • Kingston, PA, United States
  • 10-09-18

One of Our Great Living Writers Stumbles

I am currently auditioning Flanagan for my favorite active writer. He got off to a great start in my reading with two of my favorite novels of the last few years – The Narrow Road to the Deep North and First Person. At his best, he strikes me as world-class, as someone who ought to get sounded out for a Nobel Prize, especially given that he comes from Tasmania and gives voice to a culture the rest of the world doesn’t get to glimpse all that often.

I had more mixed feelings about his Death of a River Guide, but that was the first he’d written, and I figured he’d learned more of his craft afterwards. This one, though, is a disappointment. It may well have packed a certain power when it first came out, but at this point it seems to be cherishing insights that we now recognize as commonplace.

Stripper Gina Davies goes out one evening with an attractive Middle Eastern man. When he’s murdered soon after, the authorities mistake her for his partner, and she becomes the most wanted terrorist in Australia. Taking place in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster, this novel tries to capture the universal paranoia of that moment. The central notion is that we have to find someone to blame, that our culture demands almost a collective sacrifice to begin to feel safe again.

As the novel moves along, Gina becomes that central sacrifice. She’s elevated to it by the machinations of an over-the-top journalist who has it out for her ever since she rebuffed him at her dance club, and then she eventually embraces it herself. She comes to see herself as almost a “painted bird” (to take the title metaphor of Jerzy Kosinski’s novel) whom the rest of the world has turned upon. And [SPOILER:] she embraces it, deciding at the end to kill the journalist and own up to the fictional crimes she’s been associated with.

While there’s something in the general paranoia of that situation, it feels cliched by this point – and that’s before we get to such flat characters as the pudgy journalist, the heart-of-gold best friend stripper, or the overweight cop who’s a step slow to solve the whole problem. We’re almost two decades away from the sense that terrorists have the power to rewrite the narrative of the culture, and Don DeLillo was making that point at least as far back as Mao II in 1991. From within the years just after 9/11 – and this was published five years after – it felt as if “we” were trying to recover our mutual bearings, as if we accepted a sense of arbitrary guilt. Some of that manifest itself through efforts to understand the experience of the dispossessed of the Middle East. More of it came clear through impulses like George W. Bush and the Neo-conservatives drumming for war with Iraq.

Gina’s eventual self-sacrifice seems to me an ironic rendering of that neo-conservative notion. ‘The world is off its axis. We have to attack someone to restore it.’ In the end, though, I don’t find it all that satisfying. I’m not in an especially ironic mood – with Donald Trump as President, there’s already a toxic level of irony in our everyday lives – but I don’t know that I’d have appreciated this even a few years ago. I simply don’t see Gina’s fundamental transition. In fact, I can’t quite shake the fact that it took a bad coincidence for her not to turn herself in before things reached crisis levels – when she arrives at the police station, a detained man creates a scene and the police clear the station. No such accident, and no such novel.

I could almost forgive the empty center of this if the novel weren’t rife with other problems. Gina is almost always called “the doll,” a name that comes from her performance as a pole dancer. That is, she’s objectified from the start, from even before she turns into an accidental terrorist. The first thirty or forty pages seem larded with gratuitous descriptions of her naked self, yet, in the classic irony of pornography, her nakedness is precisely the shield that makes her invisible.

As a consequence, when she does transform, it’s less clear what she’s transforming from: is it the clear-minded woman saving her dollars for a dramatic new start, the spend-it-while-she-has-it would-be fashionista, or the almost-enlightened woman who recognizes her suffering in the suffering of others. She performs as all three from the very beginning, and her final self-sacrifice seems more dramatic than narratively determined. I just don’t see the growth that would stamp this as a true success.

I’m not giving up on Flanagan. I’m still shooting to read all of his work. I hope this one is simply a one-off mistake, a misstep by a writer as talented as anyone I know of right now.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Barbara
  • 06-30-09

The Unknown Terrorist

I haven't read anything else by this author but was completely engaged and felt a wrench when I finished listening. The story is set in Sydney, Australia and has the seeming straight forward frank approach that often is used to characterise Australians. However, as the story unfolded around the main character, a pole dancer, I empathised with her completely as her view of the world changed. The story is beautifully read by an Australian. Highly recommended.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Stephanie Jane
  • 06-17-14

Well read but falls between two stools

I haven't read any Richard Flanagan before so cannot compare his writing style in The Unknown Terrorist to other works. I suspect others would be more my cup of tea though.
The Unknown Terrorist is a fairly standard thriller which employs the mass media and an unscrupulous journalist as its evil. Our supposed heroine, Gina, also named throughout as The Doll, is hounded to madness over the period of just a few days by drummed up hysteria and the cynical machinations of anonymous powerful men in suits.
I was interested in the descriptions of Sydney, having never been to Australia. However, Flanagan's vision of the city is hardly tourist friendly! I liked his frequent mentions of the various immigrant populations, showing a country made up of many layers of cultures, much like Britain, and the way this was set against rampant hostility towards Muslims was also sadly familiar as this attitude is also widespread over here. The main characters never leapt from the page for me though which made it difficult for me to really invest in their story.
I'm not sure this book had decided what it wanted to be. It doesn't have the pace-at-all-costs approach of slick American thrillers, but the occasions where it tries for literary fiction fail too because of their isolation. My audio version was nicely narrated and passed a week of bus journeys, but I had hoped for a deeper novel and was ultimately a bit disappointed.

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  • jill
  • 05-10-14

A gripping heart wrenching story

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes as it isn't your normal theme

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Unknown Terrorist?

None

Which scene did you most enjoy?

None

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

No maybe a bit sad

Any additional comments?

Scary how that could maybe happen to anyone

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Simon
  • 04-24-14

Involving but somehow empty

In all fairness to the author, I suspect that the sense of slightly depressed nihilism I feel after listening to this book was largely intentional. The all to convincing, but at the same time Kafkaesque, sense of injustice and cynicism is compelling, but I found the victim characters as bit hollow. In some respects this is entirely appropriate and underlines the point about the marginalised, but it also makes it difficult to engage with. I tended to find the passages with the antagonists much more arresting than those with Wilder and the Doll. I also found some of the more philosophical passages a bit strained - not sufficiently interesting to be justified on their own terms, nor effective enough at character-building.

I'm very glad I picked this up, but I'm not sure how strongly I'd recommend it. It is very well read and Humphrey Bower does a great job of bringing the dialogue and inner monologue alive.

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  • Margaret
  • 07-28-17

Depressing

This story was about as entertaining and uplifting as reading a newspaper, full of tragedy and hysteria. It is a book for our times and examines the awful effect that the threat of terrorism can have on the general populace and the vulnerability of sex workers. No happy endings here.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Daniel
  • 08-07-16

Great book, but the reading?

This is great book, but the reading lets it down. The characters are sadly ruined by the reading.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Kerrie
  • 10-25-15

Wonderful

Wow , just showed if ducks are all in a line then anyone could end up a terrorist. Great book