What is the common theme of Richard Flanagan's last three novels: Wanting, The Unknown Terrorist and The Narrow Road to the Deep North?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Richard Flanagan has written several novels and connects his novels through his interest in history and the love of his country. He is a Rhodes Scholar, having attended Oxford University and obtained a Master of Letters in History. He was born in Tasmania and has an interesting heritage; both his great-grandfathers having been banished there, as criminals, (when it was still called Van Dieman's Land) in the 1800s. Flanagan started his writing career writing historical chronicles and non-fiction, in order to be able to afford to write from his heart.

His last three novels, The Unknown Terrorist (2006), Wanting (2008) and The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014) have ensured that he remains popular, not only throughout Australia but to a wider audience.  

The Unknown Terrorist is quite typical in its depiction of paranoia as the modern world, and Gina Davies, "The Doll," in Sydney, faces other people's fears. Flanagan has been accused of almost "staging" his characters to ensure that his view is seen as the accepted view. Cultural differences and similarities connect this novel to Flanagan's other works.   

Wanting is set in the 1830s in both Britain and the then called Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) and takes its inspiration from real historical events. It draws the reader in to its own version of Australia's colonial past, giving readers an opportunity to understand the often, well-meaning but misled intentions of Westerners, in this case, the Tasmanian Governor and his wife. 

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is set during WW II and begins in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. Dorrigo Evans is an Australian/ Tasmanian surgeon working in the camp, haunted by his past and his regrettable affair with his uncle's wife. 

All three novels confirm Flanagan's status as a proud Tasmanian and make the connection between culture and circumstance. They all expose the differences between people and how this can lead to tragedy when misunderstandings abound. His novels have a love element and a definite historical reference as history shapes his characters. Flanagan sums it up in his most recent, The Narrow Road to the Deep North:

"Everything that did not matter - professional ambitions, the private pursuit of status, the color of wallpaper, the size of an office or the matter of a dedicated car parking space - was treated with the greatest significance, and everything that did matter - pleasure, joy, friendship, love - was deemed somehow peripheral."  

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