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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Escape Attempt

Miguel Ángel Hernández

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To purchase Escape Attempt

Title: Escape Attempt
Author: Miguel Ángel Hernández
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 291 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Escape Attempt - US
Intento de escapada - US
Escape Attempt - UK
Escape Attempt - Canada
Tentative d'évasion - France
Fluchtversuch - Deutschland
Tentativi di fuga - Italia
Intento de escapada - España
  • Spanish title: Intento de escapada
  • Translated by Rhett McNeil

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Our Assessment:

B : solid, engaging concept-novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Irish Times . 19/3/2016 Eileen Battersby

  From the Reviews:
  • "Escape Attempt is chilling and very good (.....) Miguel Ángel Hernández, a professor of art history, is no stylist; his narrator has a strange, queasy story to tell, and he delivers it in a suitably flat, business-like and direct prose, ably translated by Texan Rhett McNeill. The strength of this sophisticated and deliberately non-pretentious novel lies in the slightly horrified candour with which his uneasy narrator recalls the episode and dealing with his own part in it." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Escape Attempt is narrated by Marcos Torres, and it begins and ends in 2013, when there is a retrospective of the works of a Spanish artist named Jacobo Montes at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, but the bulk of the novel has Marcos look back to his final year at a university in a sleepy backwater town in Spain, a decade earlier, when he first met Montes -- and a piece from that time, a crate or box called Escape Attempt.
       In 2003 Marcos was twenty-two, studying art -- and already well aware that his talents were more analytical than creative; he: "never imagined exhibiting work in a gallery". He's particularly enthusiastic about his teacher Helena, herself just in her mid-thirties but far more experienced and knowledgeable than Marcos, and he is fascinated by the transgressive art she is introducing her students to. She also runs a local art gallery, and in a small coup has gotten Jacobo Montes to agree to exhibit there; she is convinced Montes -- a Santiago Sierra-like figure -- is: "the most important, brilliant, and controversial Spanish creator of recent years". She enlists Marcos to be Montes' assistant in planning the show -- his man-on-site, and then guide and driver when the artist is in town -- a job Marcos embraces enthusiastically.
       Among the topics Montes is interested in exploring at the time is that of: "the politics of immigration", and this seems a good spot to do that:

     Between 1993 and 2003, more than 50,000 immigrants had arrived in the Community. It was the province with the fifth most immigrants in the country.
       Marcos had led a relatively sheltered life in many respects, and is only now making first tentative steps that most of his fellow students had taken at a much younger age, from intimacy with women to consuming alcohol and trying drugs. So too it's not entirely surprising that when he looks into the immigrant milieu he finds: "this was the first time I'd ever been face-to-face with a person of color".
       Already in the introductory section, from 2013, Marcos had mentioned that the subjects that had preoccupied him for the past ten years was: "the rupture of visual pleasure in contemporary art" -- specifically the kind of thing Montes specialized in:
Hiding things, removing them from view, is nothing more than frustrating the spectator's gaze. To conceal, strike through, veil, enclose ... to rupture visual pleasure.
       This is also what Montes did with his Escape Attempt-piece.
       Helena notes that in treating the "everyday tragedy" surrounding the situation of the immigrants: "Montes will transform it into art and make it visible. Which is to say truly visible. A story is nothing if nobody ever tells it." Cleverly, Montes' Escape Attempt-piece will do so by concealment; cleverly, too, the 'meaning' and significance of the art-work are then enhanced (and further revealed) by the story Marcos is telling.
       Early on, Helena reminded her class that:
     "Art and ethics are two different things," insisted Helena. "Something can be a great work of art and still be ethically abominable."
       Montes' Escape Attempt-piece is a provocative -- and ethically dubious -- work. In its realization it gets even messier -- certainly from Marcos' perspective.
       As much as the piece is about the politics of immigration, it is also about complicity: of the subject, of the audience -- including the complicity of the citizen who simply looks away from the (mis)treatment of others (immigrants, in this case) around him.
       Marcos is torn by guilt about his role in what happened -- in no small part because he can't be quite sure what happened. Ten years later, the built-up guilt (and all his theorizing about the unseen) become too much for him when he is again faced with this art-work from his past -- and in a nice concluding twist, Marcos again finds himself drawn into complicity. And even as the novel's apparent closing words are a Bartlebyesque "I would prefer not to" -- Marcos going through the motions of avoiding additional complicity -- the acknowledgements note that follows (and indeed the existence of what is presented as this account he has written) suggest something different.
       Escape Attempt the novel is presented as a novel written by Marcos. After all these academic years writing essays he decided to tackle this subject in novel- rather than essay-form -- becoming an artist, of sorts, after all, and exhibiting, in a way, his work. It's also yet another variation of one of the book's themes, of theory as practice -- art as commentary. As such, Escape Attempt is a concept novel, much as Montes' pieces are conceptual art. "The key is that the metaphor be made real", Montes insists -- and Hernández has similar ambitions here.
       All in all, it works quite well. Escape Attempt is consistently engaging -- though a bit reliant on shock-value for effect (but then that's a reflection of the art and artists it is commenting on) -- and doesn't bog down in theory or the abstract. Marcos is a bit of a sad sack narrator -- physically unattractive and "an old man at twenty-two" -- but he fills his role well enough -- as do Helena and Montes.
       In not offering definitive answers, Escape Attempt mirrors the art it describes -- and makes a case for its value. Montes' art -- and Hernández's book -- are intentionally provocative (outrageously so, in Montes' case), looking for (re)action without insisting on (or perhaps even expecting) it, but forcing the viewer/reader to question their own unwillingness to act and their passivity (in consuming the art, but not acting on it) -- and their complicity both with the work of 'art' and society in general.
       Escape Attempt is fiction-with-(and-as-)a-message, and obviously constructed as such; Hernández isn't a natural novelist, and much of the novel is pretty basic as far as the writing goes. But the novel largely succeeds at what it means to be, and succeeds in entertaining and provoking, too.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 April 2016

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Escape Attempt: Reviews: Miguel Ángel Hernández Navarro: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Miguel Ángel Hernández Navarro was born in 1977.

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© 2016 the complete review

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