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Midnight All Day by Hanif Kureishi (Faber, £9.99, 217pp)

Midnight All Day by Hanif Kureishi (Faber, £9.99, 217pp)

SERIOUS ABOUT love, cavalier about falling out of it, Hanif Kureishi's last novel, Intimacy , pressed more buttons with feminist critics than John Updike has managed in a lifetime. A pitiless account of a husband walking out on his wife and two sons, which closely mirrored events in the author's own life, it gave powerful voice to every new father's fantasy of leaving. Ever the suburban rebel, Kureishi has now followed up this paean to individual freedom with a collection of stories that touch on the unspoken pleasures of divorce.

A less cheery soul than the one who wrote The Buddha of Suburbia , Kureishi now writes about middle-aged men more likely to be moved by Schubert than house music. The 40-somethings who populate his stories have made it in artistic circles (as screenwriters, novelists, or actors) but still don't feel members of the club. Life only gets real when desire rears its head, and that's not likely to happen in the marital bed. In the story "That Was Then", Nick, a novelist, ends up sleeping with his flaky ex; while the title story plots the progress of an affair between a husband and his pregnant mistress.

A writer obsessed by London, Kureishi's topographical references are as seductive as his characters' internal monologues. Divorced dads spend wet afternoons in familiar parks, new lovers saunter up the King's Road.

Though some of the stories seem dangerously autobiographical - the story "The Umbrella" describes a quarrel between ex-partners as their two young sons scream in the background - Kureishi also takes some startling plunges into the surreal. "The Penis", the collection's only dud, tells how a famous porn star mislays his most lucrative asset. No doubt the story has a point, though when the aforementioned member goes flying off Tower Bridge, knocking out a tourist en route, you cease to care. EH

Barrow's Boys by Fergus Fleming (Granta, £8.99, 489pp)

GRIPPING, HILARIOUS, often flabbergasting, this is a splendid adventure book. Fleming had the idea of threading together the 20-odd expeditions in the early 19th century by John Barrow, a senior Admiralty official, to confirm his ill-founded beliefs in (a) the North-West Passage and (b) that the Niger flowed into the Congo. Most of his envoys roasted or froze. Barrow complained if they returned without suffering. Their guts are typified by the "slightly mad" Gordon Laing, who overcame ghastly wounds and plague to discover Timbuctoo and was promptly decapitated by Tuaregs.

Satyricon by Eurydice (Scribner, £9.99, 256pp)

US SEX columnist and university graduate Eurydice (her real name) explores the "new sexual frontier": transvestism, S&M, cybersex and similar delights. Over here, such specialised interests were giggled at by Kitty Churchill in her jolly saga Thinking of England . Eurydice's approach is darker and utterly po-faced, but not necessarily less silly. Discussing the kinky thrills to be had from blood-letting, she reminds us: "Jesus's undying power is in his shallow, self-inflicted wounds." One warning: this book is the reverse of arousing.

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