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 matters of conjecture. They have always been subjects of debate.
There are many stories of Haffner—but this, the most secret, is the greatest of them all. 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.
How can you ever escape your past, your family, your history? That is the problem of Haffner’s story in The Escape. That has always been the problem of Haffner—and his lifetime of metamorphoses and disappearances. How might Haffner ever become unattached?
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.
The Escape is a swift, sad farce of sexual mayhem by a brilliant young novelist The New York Times has called “a prodigy and, as such, unstoppable.”
“A novel where the humor is melancholic, the melancholy mischievous, and the talent startling.” —Milan Kundera
“In The Escape, you can practically see Bellow’s Augie March, Roth’s Mickey Sabbath and Martin Amis’s John Self applauding, ghost-like, from the margins . . . The novel fizzes with intelligence, verbal skill and humour.” —Simon Baker, The Observer (London)
“The Escape is one of the best British novels I’ve read this year for one reason: Thirlwell’s prose. At once effervescent and elegant, his narrative voice lifts the novel’s lecherous comedy beyond the sublunary lovers’ antics into a more rarefied sphere . . . The novel abounds, from start to finish, with graceful turns of phrase and slanting insights . . . What rescues The Escape is no deus ex machina, no twist in its plot . . . but instead the cadences and harmonies of a very fine composition.” —Sarah Churchwell, The Guardian
“Witty and engaging, erudite but fleet and sinuous; the questions he asks are lightly posed, his mock grandeur dispersing in a sea of ridiculous incident and comic undercutting . . . In this playful, eloquent novel, Adam Thirlwell demonstrates that knowing why one acts as one does is rarely the whole answer, or much more than the beginning of a question.” —Alex Clark, The Times Literary Supplement