Escape, by Dominique Manotti, is a short novel that manages to pack in as much action and character development as a work of twice the length. It tells the tale of a small time criminal who escapes from prison in the company of a political freedom fighter. The sparse language and fast moving plot require attention, although the book is not a difficult read, and I found myself having to put it down from time to time to digest what had just happened. As in life, the narration of the tale is not always clear cut, memory being as much influenced by audience and current circumstance as on what happened in the past. The reader is left to ponder which, if any, version of the ‘escape’ is actually true.
The book is a translation of the French novel, L’Evasion, but this never detracts from the flow or pace. The detail of the politics can be hard to follow at times for those who are unfamiliar with Italy and France in the 1970’s and 80’s, but the camaraderie and self righteousness felt by those fighting for a cause can be universally recognised.
I found few of the characters likeable, but could empathise with their reasoning and aspirations in light of events described. As the layers of the freedom fighter’s character were revealed, his love life and relationships with those he met in prison, his subsequent, apparently contradictory, actions became more believable. It was interesting to consider him through the eyes of those who had known him at different points in his life.
The ease with which the small time crook had his book published seemed a little unreal, but as this was pivotal to the plot I can understand why the author did not wish to waste too many words on the process. Throughout the book few words are wasted, it is tightly written and riveting.
I particularly liked the way the author developed the character of this young man, a fabulous example of smoke and mirrors. In learning quickly from his publisher and effectively reinventing himself through his writing, he could have been in any one of the versions of the ‘escape’ described. Was he weak, naive, a quick learner or a clever actor?
The denouement was not a surprise, it is hard to see how else the book could have ended and it was certainly well written. We are told in the Afterword that the author herself turned from political activism to writing novels ‘par désespoir’. Perhaps, just as those in her story wondered at how much truth there was in fiction, we could be asking that question of her.
My copy of this book was provided, gratis, by the publisher, Arcadia Books.