The Phoenix Network:
About | Advertise
Books  |  Comedy  |  Dance  |  Museum And Gallery  |  Theater

Going under Down Under

Richard Flanagan’s fish in a barrel
By CLEA SIMON  |  May 1, 2007

URBAN FABLE: Flanagan’s heroine fits his infernal vision of the modern city, overrun as it is with scabby beggars and casual cruelty.

Everybody loves an outlaw, and Richard Flanagan is no exception. In Gould’s Book of Fish, the Tasmanian author reimagined the real-life imprisonment of 19th-century forger William Buelow Gould in a hellish island penal colony during which he did indeed illustrate a guide to the area’s sea life. That historical novel, published in the US in 2002, set up an intriguing counterpoint: the lushness of Gould’s paintings, and of the half-mad convict’s inner life, against the inhumane deprivations of his imprisonment, and, by implication, of society itself. It was social satire at its finest, timeless and captivating with flashes of redemptive beauty.

There’s nothing of such beauty in Flanagan’s latest, shorter novel, The Unknown Terrorist, though its anti-heroine protagonist, Gina Davies, is quite attractive. An old-fashioned looker, her body and movements “rounded and full,” Gina, better known as the Doll, is a top stripper at Sydney’s Executive Lounge. At 26, claiming to be 22, she knows she’s aging out, but she’s so close to her goal that she keeps on dancing. Her ambition is simple: if she can earn enough to cover herself in $100 dollar bills, she’ll have enough to purchase an apartment. But even as she seeks to disappear into middle-class life, she can’t resist what she sees advertised around her, and she keeps dipping into her savings for Gucci bags, La Perla underwear, and Versace jeans. When she meets an attractive stranger, Tariq, her aching need is briefly forgotten. But then Tariq vanishes, and one of her clients, an aging television newsman, turns on her with deadly repercussions.

Vain and bitter, still smarting from a demotion and a sexual rejection, TV anchor Richard Cody gravitates to the Executive Lounge to reassert his place in the world order. “Isn’t it humiliating?” he asks the Doll during a private show, a question she throws back at him about his own work. When she then turns down his blunt proposition, the die is cast. Although the sagging celebrity is only dimly aware of his own motivations, he manipulates circumstance into a story that will resuscitate his career and put the pole dancer in her place. He casts the Doll as a terrorist, and fear- and sex-crazed Sydney is soon baying for her blood.

The Doll is not a nice person. “I like to think I’m equally racist about everybody,” she says, “but slimy Lebs [Lebanese Australians] I really hate.” She fits perfectly into Flanagan’s infernal vision of the modern city, overrun as it is with scabby beggars and casual cruelty. In his sharp prose — every action intercut with ads that blare from the omnipresent TV and radio — the hunt for the Doll becomes deadly fast, and desperation pushes her into a late self-discovery, as she realizes “she had never cared or wondered or questioned.” But if the Doll repents, few others do.

Despite vivid writing, Flanagan’s latest is little more than a simplistic fable. Sin is commensurate with wealth and power: Moretti, the Doll’s rich weekly client, collects genocide memorabilia and the Doll’s buddy Wilder, a lesser mortal, relies on a Candide-like denial to shield her from responsibility. Even our heroine’s name underlines the objectification in this consumerist world where fear and self-interest rule.

“There was no redemption, no resurrection,” the Doll realizes, voicing the author’s cynicism. With so little subtlety, all Flanagan leaves us with is dread, and appreciation for his descriptive skills. The Doll, when she reaches this level of enlightenment, “was already dead.”

RICHARD FLANAGAN | Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard St, Brookline | May 9 at 7 pm | 617.566.6660

  Topics: Books , Richard Flanagan
  • Share:
  • RSS feed Rss
  • Email this article to a friend Email
  • Print this article Print
Going under Down Under
The Terracotta Warriors Xi'an Tours | Xi'an Hotels | Xi'an Pictures | Xi'an Map The terra-cotta warriors and horses, known as "the Eighth Wonder of the World" and listed in the World Cultural Heritage List. created about 2,200 years ago, were found in 1974 on the east side of the tomb of the First Emperor Qin Shihuang (259 BC - 210 BC) near Xi'an. The site is now the famous Terra-cotta Museum, which consists of three main buildings, Pit 1, Pit 2 and Pit 3. The three pits occupy an area of 22,000 square meters, housing about 8,000 life-size pottery warriors and horses. Pit 1 , found in March 1974 ,is the largest of the three. It contains over 6,000 life-size terracotta warriors and horses in a practical battle formation, which is the main force of the underground army. Pit 2, discovered in 1976, contains more than 1,300 pottery figures, which are specialized military forces, including archers, chariots, and cavalries. Pit 3 is the smallest of the three, containing only 68 pottery figures and one chariot. Pit 3 is the command center of the entire army. The terracotta warriors are about 1.8 meters in height on average. Each of them has an individualized appearance, characterized mainly by its facial features, such as the mouth, hairstyle and facial expression. Experts believe they are modeled on real soldiers. The warriors and horses were sculptured to protect the tomb of Qin Shihuang (the First Emperor). By 221 B.C., he defeated six countries in less than ten years, concluding the chaos of more than 500 years known as the Warring States Period. By this time, China's first-ever centralized feudal power was founded and laid a solid basis for the rapid development of economy, politics, ideology and culture. Qin Shihuang founded its capital in Xi'an, and created one of the greatest ancient cities the world has ever known. Believing that he would continue to rule his country after his death, Qin Shihuang ordered his subjects to build a magnificent underground palace. Constructions of the tomb began soon after Qin Shihuang ascended the throne. Hundreds of thousands of people worked 17 years to complete it. The clay statues are in life size and were modeled after the real members of Qin Shihuang's army. The facial features and expression are depicted so vividly in life that one can almost understand the soldiers' characters, and which part of the country they came from, and one can tell from the soldiers' garment and posture and weapons his position in the army. While the soldiers and horses are made of clay, the weapons are real. The terra-cotta army actually holds a complete arsenal of Qin Dynasty. The majority of the weaponry is made from copper and tin in addition to 13 other rare metals. Some of the weapons were never discovered before and demonstrated more advanced craftsmanship than expected. For instance, an underground bronze sword still shines after having been buried underground for more than 2,000 years. The ancient craftsmen also used special treatment to prevent the sword from getting rusty. About 600 satellite pits and tombs have been unearthed in the surrounding area of the tomb of the First Emperor since the discovery of terracotta warriors and horses in 1974. Thirty-one pits of rare animals and birds and 98 sets of the stable pits have been unearthed.
By David Chan on 05/05/2007 at 1:02:01

Today's Event Picks
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   TECHNICALLY IMPROVED  |  November 18, 2008
    Ski and snowboard gear refined, not redefined
  •   INTERVIEW: JOHN HODGMAN  |  November 21, 2008
    One man's operating system
  •   MURDER, SHE WROTE  |  August 05, 2008
    Interview: Tana French's deep crime novels
  •   SPY GAMES  |  June 10, 2008
    Alan Furst’s “Night Soldiers” novels
  •   FLYING HIGH  |  June 02, 2008
    Interview: Jonathan Miles’s airport novel

 See all articles by: CLEA SIMON

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

Featured Articles in Music Features:
Saturday, November 22, 2008  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2008 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group