Feeling somewhat cocky that I owned a copy of our f2f book for this month I was more than happy to finally get a chance to read THE UNKNOWN TERRORIST by Richard Flanagan. No matter that it turned out that the book club book was another one altogether (might make a note of that book later on), I really really really enjoyed THE UNKNOWN TERRORIST.
This book beautifully illustrates the way that somebody's reputation, life and future can be trashed comprehensively by one little mistake compounded by somebody else's blatant personal interest. Not wanting to give away too much, basically the story is about a young woman, with a bad start in life, who has a plan and an aim and is working her way towards that. Okay so the job (exotic dancer / stripper / whatever you want to call it) might not be the sort of job that everyone would be comfortable doing, but our central character, Gina does what she does well - with the aim of putting away enough money to buy a house and make a life for herself. A trip to the beach, a brief encounter with a young man who saves her best friend's little boy from the surf, and long story short, Gina ends up spending the night with him. Waking up the next morning on her own, wandering across the road to get a coffee, looking back to find her one night stand is the target of a massive intelligence / police raid, Gina's life rapidly spirals downwards. Not helped by the CCTV footage that shows her kissing him - a man she quickly comes to know is a suspected terrorist. Enter the slimy self-serving and rather revolting journalist, and Gina's suddenly a wanted woman - you'd swear one of the most dangerous women in Australia.
There's absolutely nothing subtle about the scenario being explored in THE UNKNOWN TERRORIST - but there is a lot of subtlety in the outcomes. The journalist's behaviour is, unfortunately, not hard to envisage. Gina's not quite as predictable - whilst it would have been possible to hammer an agenda a little too strongly, Gina's sympathetic but at the same time she's stupid and frustrating and contributes just a little to her own fate - early on when she could have just gone to the authorities and surely had a hope of sorting out the whole mess, she dithers and dives and goes into hiding and from that point on, you know that things are getting worse and worse for her. Having said that, there's room for a reader to feel real sympathy for her decisions (bad and good), there's a real feeling of the powerlessness of being a nobody, slightly on the fringes of "polite society" up against the tide of media influence, public reactivity and hysteria.
One of the blurbs on the back of this book really caught my eye ... an excerpt of which deserves to be repeated: "THE UNKNOWN TERRORIST should be required reading - with eyelids pinned open, if necessary, and forced to look..." David Masiel WASHINGTON POST. I suspect there will be some whose will find the scenario in this book difficult to swallow (and I wouldn't be at all surprised to find accusations of certain political sympathies on my own part). Regardless of where you stand on the issue of terrorism and the treatment of terrorists, THE UNKNOWN TERRORIST is surely a poignant reminder of the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" and a stark example of the ills of trial by media.