Author Topic: The Escape Artist

sam

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The Escape Artist
« on: October 09, 2005 »


The Escape Artist by Matt Seaton

In reviewing Matt Seaton's The Escape Artist, the irresistible temptation is to adopt the shorthand of a marketing pitch and call it the Fever Pitch of cycling. Seaton's book, like Nick Hornby's, is about male obsession and the ways it changes (or doesn't) in the face of growing responsibility and maturity. In Fever Pitch the obsession was Arsenal FC; in The Escape Artist) the obsession is cycle-racing, the sport of strange, lycra-clad lads with shaved legs and eyes permanently fixed on the back wheel of the bike ahead. Seaton is particularly good at evoking the rituals of the sport (the loving maintenance of both body and bike, the relentless monitoring of calories, pulse beats and heart rates) and at recreating the adrenaline thrills it provides. His descriptions of his own races--with the cyclists bunched together for mile after mile, each one testing and assessing the pace and stamina of the others, until the sudden, dramatic opportunity to "escape" the pack offers itself--go a long way towards explaining the otherwise inexplicable hold the sport has on its devotees. His accounts of his own developing responsibilities, and of the tragedy of his wife's illness and premature death, which force him to reassess the priorities in his life, seem more tentative. It is as if the experiences, unsurprisingly, are still too raw and painful to be approached in any less oblique and indirect way. Yet it is these passages that give the book an individuality that makes it much more than just another story of male obsession. The Escape Artist is a brief book, easily read, but it is a moving one and it manages to say much in a short space about subjects more important than cycle-racing. -Nick Rennison