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Escape - Dominique Manotti

Over the past few years, I've had the pleasure of reading 4 of Dominique Manotti's novels. What makes them so compelling and hard-to-put-down is that she has an unerring knack for putting the reader in the heart of the action from the very beginning. With an economy of words, Manotti sketches out the salient features and mannerisms of the main characters, puts them into a challenging situation or two, and the reader is taken on a thrilling ride.


Here in "ESCAPE", the reader is put into the midst of a prison break involving 2 convicts from an Italian prison in February 1987. One of them - Carlo - is a long-time leftist revolutionary and member of the Red Brigades, which had posed a significant challenge to the Italian governments during the 1970s and early 1980s - and the other, Filippo Zuliani, is a thief and petty criminal from Rome in his early 20s. Both men had been cellmates and had become close friends over the 6 months they had been incarcerated together. Filippo marvelled over the stories Carlo shared with him about his life as a revolutionary which went back to the 1960s. Indeed, Filippo was so impressed by Carlo's stories that he developed from the older man a deep love and appreciation for words.


Anyway, a car was waiting a short distance from the prison. Two people - a man and a woman - quickly ushered Carlo and Filippo inside, driving them out into the countryside, where both men eventually went their own separate ways. (Carlo had suggested that should he need to get out of the country that he had a close friend in Paris --- Lisa Biaggi, a journalist, political exile, and Carlo's onetime girlfriend from Italy -- with whom he could make a contact and find assistance. So, he gave Filippo's Lisa's address and later called Lisa to apprise her of Filippo's situation.)


Filippo at first feels at a loss without Carlo as he makes his way from the mountains to Bologna, where he manages to obtain a newspaper and learned that something dreadful had happened to the older man. Eventually, Filippo makes his way out of Italy to Paris and ends up at Lisa's doorstep (she's hardly impressed with him and distrusts him; nevertheless, as a favor to Carlo, she refers him to her friend Cristina Pirozzi, a self-assured attractive doctor in her early 40s - a political exile like Lisa -- who rents out an adjacent apartment to Filippo and finds him a job at La Defense as a nighttime security guard).


It is now March 1988. Filippo has been shaken by his experiences of the past year and reflects a lot on what Carlo had told him about himself and his revolutionary activities. He spends many lonely hours amid the tedium of his job thinking about the spellbinding stories Carlo had told him in prison. Eventually, Filippo is compelled to write about an incident loosely based on his escape from prison and on Carlo's stories. In the process, he pens a novel and slides its contents in an envelope under Cristina's door. A day later, she comes across Filippo's novel, reads it, is much impressed by it, and invites him to the neighborhood cafe --- Cafe Pouchkine --- for drinks. Cristina arranges to have Filippo's novel sent to a top publisher she knows, and secures him a contract.


Filippo's novel proves to be unexpected best-seller, earning high critical praise and for Filippo a new sense of self. But Filippo's newfound fame as a writer turns out to be a mixed blessing as the Italian government is uncomfortable with the dizzying success of a novel that bears a striking similarity to a attempted bank robbery in Milan from the previous year that led to the death of 2 carabinieri, a security guard, and someone close to Lisa Biaggi. Filippo's status in France is called into question by Rome, while Paris mulls over Rome's objection to Filippo's protected status in France.


As stated in the back cover of "ESCAPE", "Filippo [after being carefully coached by his publishers] steadfastly refuses to admit that the book is anything other than fiction, but the public don't believe him. Nor do the police." The pressure continues to build and build until... Well, you'll have to read this novel to find out what ensues. I assure the reader of this review that he/she won't be disappointed.