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Haffner is charming, morally suspect, sexually omnivorous, vain. He is British and Jewish and a widower. But when was Haffner ever really married? Or Jewish? When was he ever attached? There are so many stories of Haffner: but this, the most secret, is the greatest of them all.
In a spa town snug in the Alps, at the end of the twentieth century, the 78-year-old Haffner is seeking a cure, redress, more women; and ignoring the will of his wife.
He is there to claim her inheritance: a villa on the outskirts of a forgotten spa town. But Haffner never does what he is told. On his arrival in the town, he has checked into the spa hotel - and tried to develop two affairs: a mildly successful affair with a younger woman whose breasts are lavish, and a much less successful affair with an even younger woman, whose breasts are the smallest he has ever known. And, intermittently, he has tried to secure the paperwork for the villa he never wanted.
But gradually, in the tribulations of bureaucracy, he discovers that he wants this villa, very much. Now that he has to fight for it, he wants it.
There are two character notes to Haffner: he is an egotist, and he adores women. A mediocre man, but a man of singular appetite.
And so it is that, harried by his family, pursued by his women, menaced by bureaucrats, negotiating with the mafia, riven by his memory of the dead and of the missing, Haffner endures his many humiliations, as he tries to orchestrate his final escape, in the forgotten centre of Europe.
Through the story of his couplings and uncouplings, emerge the stories of Haffner's Twentieth Century. How can you ever desert from your past, your family, your history? That has been the problem of Haffner's life. How do you remain a libertine?
A novel about the fall of empires, and the beauty of defeat, The Escape is a swift, sad farce of sexual mayhem.