The Escape A Novel

Adam Thirlwell




Trade Paperback

336 Pages


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Haffner is charming, morally suspect, vain, obsessed by the libertine emperors. He is British and Jewish and a widower. But Haffner's attachments to his nation, his race, his marriage, have always been subjects of debate. The Escape opens in a spa town snug in the unfashionable eastern Alps, where Haffner has come to claim his wife's inheritance: a villa expropriated in darker times. After weeks of ignoring his task in order to conduct two affairs—one with a capricious young yoga instructor, the other with a hungrily passionate married woman—he discovers gradually that he wants this villa, very much. Squabbling with bureaucrats and their shadows means a fight, and Haffner wants anything he has to fight for. Through the improvised digressions of his comic couplings and uncouplings emerge the stories of Haffner's century: the chaos of World War II , the heyday of jazz, the postwar diaspora, the uncertain triumph of capitalism, and the inescapability of memory.


Praise for The Escape

"Here’s how precocious Adam Thirlwell is: In 2003, when he was 24 years old, Granta named him one of Britain’s best young novelists—before his first novel had even been published. (He made the cut on the strength of the manuscript.) Once the book, Politics, did appear, discussions about it had one common denominator: sex. Readers and reviewers, pro and con, sought the precise location of the line demarcating smut from smart. Translated into 30 languages, Politics told the story of three young Londoners involved in a ménage à trois. Though few explicit descriptions were spared, the novel was ultimately less concerned with the foibles and fumblings of sexual misadventure than with what they could reveal about human nature that more conventional narratives could not. In The Escape, his witty, irreverent and elegiac new novel, Thirlwell employs a similarly carnal approach to character development . . . This is fine psychological insight. And it demonstrates how powerfully Thirlwell can dominate the world of his story."—Joseph Salvatore, The New York Times Book Review
"Like his guiding light Milan Kundera, Thirlwell (who was named by Granta as one of the 'best young British novelists') is adept at intertwining philosophical and erotic strands in his work. Men and women don’t simply screw; each coupling is an opportunity for the author to expound on fate, lust, history and psychology . . . But even as Thirlwell aspires to Kundera's sexed-up intellect, he manages to avoid the Czech author's pompous self-regard, and effortlessly blends reflections on memory with, say, hanky-panky in bathtubs. The result—enough to shock even a dedicated philanderer—is an accessibly cerebral story of one man and his tragic libido."—Scott Indrisek, Time Out New York
"At once effervescent and elegant . . . The novel abounds, from start to finish, with graceful turns of phrase and slanting insights."—Sarah Churchwell, The Guardian (London)
"In The Escape, you can practically see Bellow's Augie March, Roch's Mickey Sabbath, and Martin Amis's John Self applauding, ghostlike, from the margins . . . The novel fizzes with intelligence, verbal skill, and humor."—Simon Baker, The Observer (London)
"'No one likes a deserter, an escapee, because it proves the fact that there is always a choice. So often, it is easier to believe that life is a trap.' So asserts the wily and knowing narrator of Adam Thirlwell’s at once brilliant . . . new novel, The Escape. But is escape even possible? Is it desirable? The book's brilliance stems from the struggles and contradictions these questions prompt, while its shortcomings test our ability to spend this many pages with a protagonist whose importance is repeatedly argued for but never entirely proved."—Irina Reyn, The Forward
"Except for the erudition of the writing, there is almost no similarity between Thirlwell's new work and his brilliant picaresque, The Delighted States (2008) . . . VERDICT Worth considering . . . Particularly recommended for Roth and Amis fans.—Jim Dwyer, California State University Library, Chico, Library Journal 

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Haffner Unbound1

And so the century ended: with Haffner watching a man caress a woman’s breasts.

It was an imbroglio. He would admit that much. But at least it was an imbroglio of Haffner’s making.

He might have been seventy-eight, but in Haffner’s opinion he counted as young. He counted, in the words of the young, as hip. Or as close to hip as anyone else. Only Haffner, after all, would have been found in this position.

What position?

Concealed in a wardrobe, the doors darkly ajar, watching a woman be nakedly playful

Read the full excerpt


  • Adam Thirlwell

  • Adam Thirlwell was born in London in 1978. Politics, his first novel, was published in 2003 and has been translated into thirty languages. In the same year, Granta listed him among its best young British novelists. His much-praised book The Delighted States won the Somerset Maugham Award in 2008. He lives in London.
  • Adam Thirlwell Eamon McCabe