Australian author Alex Miller has twice won the Miles Franklin Literary Award and yet I’m ashamed to say that his latest novel A Brief Affair (Allen and Unwin 2022) is the first of his I’ve read. (So many books! So little time!) But I’m very glad I did finally stumble upon his writing (thank you Fiona Stager for pointing me in his direction).

This is a book full of interiority and secret longing, desire and yearning, exploration, memory and friendship. Much of the novel concerns the inner thoughts of the main characters; through their musings, we are asked to question everything about love, death and the meaning of life.

Dr Frances Egan has a loving family and a very fine career but a brief affair disrupts her equilibrium in ways she could not predict. At the age of 42 she begins to imagine a different life for herself. This is prompted not only by the affair but by a diary that comes into her possession – a long-forgotten personal record written by a woman years earlier who was an inmate in the asylum that has now been converted into the university building in which Fran works. Her office was once the isolated cell of a woman who gets under her skin and into her psyche through her scribbled notes and poetry.

As the novel explores Fran’s family and her colleagues, it touches on ambition, class issues, loyalty, forgiveness and the search for self-actualisation. Love can be dangerous, reckless and life-changing. It can be staunch, tested, scorned and punished. Love can be forever.

I particularly love this paragraph: ‘Fran was repelled and fascinated. This, she said to herself, as if it were something she had not known before, surprised and appalled by the insight, is the private world of old age. It is the world towards which all our efforts and struggles are leading us. A world of fear and pain and futility, a world of confusion. A place where there is no future left, no hope, but only this certainty of pain and death, and the pain and death of our loved ones. Ever since our childhood we live a lie, for every day of our life, our future stands before us, beckoning us onwards to brighter things, to things that will come to satisfy our hunger for reality. All our life the future is that imagined place into which will be delivered the substance of our dreams. Then comes the truth, this ugly futile beating against exhaustion.’

If this is the type of writing that appeals to you, then A Brief Affair will be a thought-provoking journey of discovery. While it focuses on the interiority of spirit, the plot is full of surprises and a few twists, and the deep thinking is threaded through with hope, light and the promise of love.