John Updike declared in a recent interview that while he was working on his last novel, Terrorist, his greatest fear was that someone might use the title before him. Surely there were dozens of authors, he argued, who’d want to write a book with this title in the present climate. Well, there was at least one: Richard Flanagan, author of Gould’s Book of Fish, whose new novel The Unknown Terrorist takes Updike’s cherished title and gives it an extra shot of anxiety.
The ‘unknown terrorist’ of the title is Gina Davies, a 26-year-old pole dancer at the Chairman’s Lounge club in Sydney who likes to pretend she’s twenty-two. It’s always worrying when a male author inhabits the character of a bisexual female stripper, but Flanagan’s creation is more than mere fantasy: her casual racism and obsessive consumerism are well-observed character traits and they make her feel real.