Photo of Sydney by sachman75 used under a Creative Commons license.
Richard Flanagan, The Unknown Terrorist (Grove Press, 2007).
The Doll is a pole dancer from Sydney’s western suburbs who makes good money and is saving it — or what she doesn’t spend on designer clothes — to buy an apartment and a better life. When she appears on surveillance videotape with a suspected terrorist, she becomes a suspect herself, the subject of a media frenzy, and unwillingly assumes a new identity. The action ranges across Sydney, from Bondi Beach to Kings Cross to the western suburbs, and while many of the post-9/11 themes will be familiar to Americans, it is very much a novel of Australia.
Wikipedia’s page on Flanagan is rather brief. NPR has an excerpt. Google Book Search offers a preview and links. The book’s site has a trailer (!) and more. Peter Conrad (The Guardian) says it’s all so vividly local that English readers might feel the need for a glossary. Ivar Hagendoorn particularly loved Flanagan’s depiction of the seamy, gritty streets of downtown Sydney. Jesse Kornbluth calls it one of the most exciting thrillers he’s read in the last few years, a novel you can’t put down. James Ley (The Age) says it’s a morality tale with massive pretensions. Magdalena Ball calls it a perfect example of why polemic and fiction do not combine well. But Simon Butler says Ball’s criticism is misplaced, that it’s not a polemic but a clever work of fiction. Uzodinma Iweala (The New York Times) says it mocks the thriller genre even as it fulfills its expectations. David Marr (Sydney Morning Herald) thinks disbelief begins to undermine the narrative. John Tague (The Independent) likes Flanagan to an Old Testament prophet shouting confrontational truths in the wilderness. Christopher Sorrentino (Bookforum) says it rides along on the edge of hysteria, perhaps too stridently so. James Buchan (The Guardian) calls it a terrific novel maintained at fever heat. Kimbofo says it’s a genuinely intelligent thriller with beautifully written prose. Gabriela Zabala-Notaras and Ismet Redzovic call it an unconvincing and poor effort that doesn’t work on any level. John Freeman (Boston Globe) says it’s not a very good novel. Damien Gay says the story is particularly relevant. Michiko Kakutani (The New York Times) sees a brilliant meditation upon the post-9/11 world. C.B. James was reminded of John LeCarré. Laurence Phelan (The Independent) has the sense that this might just be the book that best describes the grim, sad farce that is our times. Redhead Ramble thought it too pretentious. Richard Whittaker (The Austin Chronicle) calls it unapologetically Australian. Jerome Weeks (SF Chronicle) says it’s a suspense thriller with a heart of bitter satire. This Melbourne blogger calls it absolutely the best Australian novel he (she?) has read. Jake Seliger thought it not worth reading. DrVJ calls it a decent read. Kerryn was disappointed. Derek says it’s a disaster. But timmyk at Kos is a big fan. Flanagan explains why he wrote the book in the Tasmanian Times. You can listen to Ramona Koval’s interview with Flanagan about the book or read the transcript. Kerry O’Brien interviewed Flanagan for the 7:30 Report. Or listen to Flanagan’s appearance on The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC.