REVIEW: Alex Miller’s intimate characterisation sings out in his latest “masterpiece” novel, A Brief Affair.

''I would hope readers might find room to read their own story here.''
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There’s a seductive, languid poetry to Alex Miller’s writing that gently lulls the reader into his world and makes it a place you never want to leave.

There, we are surrounded by a melange of sights, sounds, smells and most importantly characters, a place that is at once embracing and poignantly thought-provoking.

In A Brief Affair that universe is largely inside the head of Dr Frances Egan, a 42-year-old academic, wife and mum of 14-year-old Margie and 10-year-old Tommy, and follows what happens when an abandoned sexual encounter with a beautiful stranger on a business trip to China shifts her perfect life off-kilter.

“Everything had changed,” Fran ponders. “She could see no way back to her innocence.”

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A Brief Affair by Alex Miller. BUY IT HERE

(Credit: (Image: Allen & Unwin))

“The affair has for Fran a compelling reality which she gives in to without really understanding its larger implications at the time,” explains author Alex Miller.

“The experience, however, satisfies in her a longing to possess something that does not belong either to her family or to her professional life but belongs wholly to herself. A sense of her own inner world of creative possibilities is opened to her through the experience of transgressing the limits imposed on her life by family and professional responsibilities.”

Fran is an exquisitely drawn character, courageous and compassionate yet trapped; stifled by an idiot boss, sleazy colleague and the parameters of her conventional life.

“My sense of empathy with Fran, and my identification with her longing to explore her own inner world probably enabled me to write of her with sympathy. Much of Fran is based on myself,” confides Alex.

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“An exquisite story of love’s power to change us.”

(Credit: (Image: Allen & Unwin Facebook))

The university building Fran works in was once a lunatic asylum and her office, cell 16, was occupied by the privileged but troubled Valerie Somers.

When the former gardener who knew Valerie shares her diary with Fran, it’s as if another sphere in her cosmos is spinning out of control. The diary is one of few items from the asylum not to be destroyed and in its pages Fran uncovers the tragedy of a passionate love unable to flourish.

What happens next ripples through Fran’s family and takes a surprising but deeply satisfying turn. Alex says, “I would hope readers might find room to read their own story here,” and it is this connection with his intimate characterisation that sings out. A masterpiece.

About the author

Award-winning author Alex Miller, 85, grew up in London where “despite the war” he had a happy childhood; his father was a “wonderful storyteller”.

Inspired by photographs by artist Sidney Nolan, Alex says, “I developed a longing to see for myself the vast emptiness of the Australian outback.” Age 16 he left for Australia. “I felt I had arrived home,” he says.

“Free for the first time in my life from the requirement to explain myself socially.” He worked on a cattle station, became a voracious reader and soon a writer. A Brief Affair is his 15th work.

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