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Dublin writer Niamh Campbell has a wild Irish way with words and wields it freely in this novel about a woman of 30, now married and a mother, whose chance encounter with a figure from her past brings back memories of an intense love affair with another man. Alannah is 23 when she meets the married, middle-aged writer Harry, and their affair proceeds along well-marked lines of eroticism and inequality, ending in a way that many female readers will recognise. The story toggles between past and present, implicitly comparing and contrasting Alannah’s husband and her former lover, and her relations with each. Her academic and intellectual standing even as a young woman explains her own dense and highly coloured style of narration, and readers will either love that or hate it. It’s a matter of taste but I found it intoxicating.

<i>Night Lessons in Little Jerusalem</i> by Rick Held.

Night Lessons in Little Jerusalem by Rick Held.

Night Lessons in Little Jerusalem
Rick Held
Hachette, $29.99

Rick Held is an Australian TV screenwriter whose debut novel is based on the wartime diaries of his father. In the geopolitically unstable city of Czernowitz – part of Romania in 1941 when the novel is set but now Ukrainian and known as Chernivtsi – 16-year-old Tholdi is living with his family and evading the ghetto with their work as so-called ‘skilled Jews’. Here they are comparatively safe for the moment, but Tholdi’s teenage passion for the lovely Lyuba leads him into a complicated and compromised situation, putting himself into a different kind of danger. The style is straightforward and racy, the plot a complex one that forces the reader to consider what various moral dilemmas might look like to people in fear for their lives. This kind of fiction becomes progressively more important as history retreats into the unrecoverable past.

<i>Broken Rules and Other Stories</i> by Barry Lee Thompson

Broken Rules and Other Stories by Barry Lee Thompson

Broken Rules and Other Stories
Barry Lee Thompson
Transit Lounge, $29.99

Talent and originality mark this debut collection. The sensibility and subject matter of these stories is so similar from one to the next that the book reads almost like a novel, but is really a kind of discontinuous narrative about life as a gay man, with top notes of melancholy and loneliness. Most of these stories are set in Britain but could be happening anywhere, as their real focus is on the psychological and physical nature of sexual desire and the ways in which desire is — or is not — fulfilled and appeased. Thompson manages to evoke emotional and psychological intensity with a style so undecorated that at times it feels almost anaesthetised. While Hemingway seems an unlikely model for such a writer, his ghost is there in the focus on the small concrete details of daily life and in the unrelenting simplicity of style.