The Escape Artist: Life from the Saddle Paperback – 6 Feb 2003
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'As poignant an elegy as I have ever read. I finished the last chapters of this book just before I went to sleep, and in the morning, with a swoop of grief in my guts, it was the first thing I thought of.'
Toby Clements, Daily Telegraph
‘Thoroughly tragic and almost brilliant. The Escape Artist is an achingly sad account of what Seaton now refers to as 'my former life.'
Robert MacFarlane, Observer
'A heart-stopping examination of how, why and for what we push ourselves to the edge. I never thought I'd cry about bikes and cycling. It is one of those rare books you could give to absolutely anyone – and one you'll want to keep by you and read again and again.'
‘This book is, above all, about passion and loss. It's about the passion of life at the very edge of athletic and mechanical achievement that is eventually lost to love of a wife and children, which in turn gives way to the loss of the wise and mother herself. I read and relished this book.'
Jon Snow, Guardian
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If you buy no other sporting biography this year, then you should grace your bookcase and your mind with this.
Thankfully, what this book has in abundance are some keenly wrought observations on cycle racing and its sub-culture. The sport of cycling deserves and in this book has got some wonderful descriptions of the agony and the ecstasy that cycling brings that I think will appeal to the roadie and non-roadie alike. Seaton's desire to subscribe to a sport as uncompromising as cycling is described with a passion and grittiness that reminded me of the opening of Tim Krabbe's book 'The Rider'whose central character expresses disdain for those who prefer not to subscribe to the (more agony!)of cycle racing.
It is Seaton's determination to succeed and rise to the challenge of cycle racing that provides such a compelling read even if he does dwell a little too long on the matter of leg shaving! But it is also his ability to weave into the narrative the challenges facing him in his personal life that bring a respectful sobriety to the text. This is a book that manages to balance serious life issues with the simple pleasures of bike riding.
I've never actually read a book that I generally found more depressing than uplifting so this for me was a first (or perhaps that simply exposes a lack of extensive reading on my part). The highs and the lows are devoted equal, and indeed fleeting, amounts of time but in general you feel like you're on a gradual descent that delivers you painstakingly to the end of Seaton's cycling career. I think every road cyclist who becomes moderately serious with the sport will feel at one time or another that the rest of life (inevitably) gets in the way of an activity that takes 4 hours out of your day in activity and the rest in recovery. I felt frustrated for Seaton as he desperately tried to hang on to whatever cycling life permitted him. It's fascinating to observe how he deals with this experience and how he reconciles things eventually in his mind.
Don't read this expecting an account of the sport; there are plenty of those around. This is about life, and is all the more engrossing because of it. By describing specific moments in his life, rather than a broad brush approach, Seaton draws you in and makes it feel like you are there. I couldn't put it down, and can see myself reading it again and again.
I found myself unable to put the book down during the descriptions of Matt's improving results, and of his wife Ruth's
tolerance of his cycling, as they went through their trials.
The story of the pressure to give up a male obsession in order to satisfy the demands of a relationship with children were familiar territory, but left unexplored due to the tragic changes in the family's circumstances. I was left feeling quite sad and very moved by the account Matt gives.
One can't help but wonder if the cyling bug has really been extinguished in him; the passionate descriptions lead me to belive that he will find it hard to leaves cycling out of his life forever.
One for cylists and the people who tolerate them.
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