Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan

I received a proof of Richard Flanagan's new novel The Unknown Terrorist in the post today. (We asked for two proofs of Marie's book at the same time and they are yet to arrive - any Random folk reading this - sort it out!)

I am a bit of a fan. I read Gould's Book of Fish and reviewed it for the Times. I have a HB First edition. Beautiful book - printed in many colours. Mine is signed in green by the man himself. I am also the only person I know to have read Death of a River Guide all the way through.

Here's the Times review:

WHAT MAKES a great novel? Is it the sustained narrative drive or expertly painted characters that keep the pages turning? Sometimes the pleasure comes from reading itself; the interplay of words and imagination, and it is into this category that Gould’s Book of Fish falls.

In the age of the digestible soundbite, ambitious books are usually dismissed as pretentious nonsense, and there are many who have written off this novel. But there are others who have found it inspired.

Diving into the cruelty, humiliation and collective insanity that drive Flanagan’s Tasmanian penal colony demands brave reading. Confinement, torture and execution are the order of each day and the names that populate its pages (Pobjoy, Capois Death, Musha Pug) hint at the characters’ brutalised lives.

Only Flanagan’s magical ability to excite the imagination and stretch the mind of the reader can save the book from its subject. Sentences of complex syntax glow with hallucinatory intensity, but this is more than just linguistic pyrotechnics. With his maelstrom of letters Flanagan explores the effects of power, both on the tyrant that wields it and on the subjugated, in an attempt to reconcile beauty with brutality.

So take a chance, read the book and decide for yourself. As Gould points out: “At best a picture, a book are only open doors inviting you into an empty house, & once inside you just have to make the rest up as well as you can.”

They messed around with my prose a bit (bloody sub editors!) but the gist is there. The best bit was that I was working at Daunt (can finally speak the name!) on Marylebone High Street at the time. (A truly great bookshop BTW) A bloke came in that Saturday with the review in his hand and said "Do you have a copy of this? It sounds amazing!" (I shi* you not) I placed a copy in his hand and experienced the warm glow of the nobody whose genius is recognised for the next ten minutes or so.

But my fanatical support of Flanagan does not end there. A while later Robert McCrum wrote a piece about ridiculous prize-winning books. Gould's Book of Fish one of the books he picked on. (Won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize 2002) I e-mailed him and begged to differ. McCrum responded with a one liner along the lines of Let's Agree To Disagree. He probably thinks I'm a nutter.

Incidentally Flanagan was once published by Macmillan as part of the Picador list. They decided Gould's Book of Fish would be too expensive to produce - all the pics and coloured text etc. They dropped him and now he's published by Atlantic. Interestingly there are those at Macmillan I have e-mailed in the past who I KNOW FOR A FACT believe I'm a nutter...I've seen the e-mail...But there are plenty of great folk at Macmillan so I don't want to be too bitchy.

Well maybe I am nuts. (Maybe I'm just nuts about books?) Certainly nuts about Flanagan and I can't wait to get my eyes/brain into his latest...

I will report back when I'm through it.


  1. Wow what a self-indulgent post!

    Still, this is a blog...

  2. So far so good - but I left the proof at home today. Damn. Will have to read something else instead - er, do some work I mean...