The Last Escape
Two fathers and two sons in search of love, respect and renewed balance
Ivan, an exile from the former Yugoslavia, performs an escapology act in bars and at festivals in the Netherlands. At the age of 41, this modern-day Houdini discovers that he has a ten-year-old son and feels a powerful urge to build a relationship with the boy. It is a decision that will have far-reaching consequences for his freewheeling lifestyle.
The Last Escape is narrated by a close friend of Ivan’s, a man who is also father to a ten-year-old son and who sees Ivan and his devil-may-care attitude as something to aspire to. The narrator is at a crossroads in his life: he has lost his job and is bailing out of his relationship with his girlfriend. The only passionate connection he feels is with his son Ruben. This reinforces his bond with Ivan, who is overwhelmed by paternal feelings upon seeing his own son Deedee for the first time – if only because the boy bears a striking resemblance to his dead brother.
The two fathers and two sons spend much of their time together and, when Ivan is invited to perform his most spectacular escapology trick on the Cte d’Azur, all four of them fly down to the south of France. The trick involves Ivan being tied to a chair and attempting to free himself while flames lick at his clothes. But by this time Ivan has more on his mind than his act, especially when a deeply traumatic event from his past comes back to haunt him.
Jan van Mersbergen’s style – sparse in dialogue, rich in indirect discourse – conjures up associations with Hemingway. It is the ideal medium in which to tell an emotional tale of diamonds in the rough; of a man torn between domesticity and the wild side of life; of the rootlessness of the modern migrant; of young boys who are wiser than their parents; and ultimately of what it takes to be a good father. The Last Escape echoes the themes of Van Mersbergen’s earlier novels, but expresses them more powerfully and succinctly than ever before. His seventh novel may well be his best yet.