Saturday, September 10, 2005


The Really Great Escape

The Times of London carries yet another splendid article today: an interesting piece on famous authors in hiding kicks off with the revelation that one writer thought to be dead for 32 years... apparently is not.

HENRI CHARRIÈRE, THE FRENCH convict whose experiences in the penal colony on Devil’s Island furnished the basis for his best-selling novel Papillon, has turned up in Venezuela, 32 years after he was supposed to have died of throat cancer. True, no one has actually seen him, but there he appears on the electoral register: Henry Charriero (the name he adopted in 1945, after finally settling in Venezuela), voter number 1,728,629.

Papillon’s sudden “reappearance” has provoked questions about the reliability of the Venezuelan electoral system, but it has also renewed speculation over exactly what happened to the French convict-writer. Papillon was an instant bestseller in 1969 and was adapted into a film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in 1973, but the last years of Charrière’s life remain cloaked in mystery. There were rumours that the great escaper was not dead at all, merely lying low, in South America or Spain. If he is still alive today, Papillon would be 99 years old.

On the voting rolls 32 years after dying of throat cancer?... Shouldn't this man be in Chicago?

Incidentally, Papillon is still in print, and selling quite nicely by the looks of it. Hmm. Perhaps Harper Collins or his agent know something about Charriere's whereabouts that the rest of us don't?

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