BOOK REVIEW / Paperbacks: Mary Renault: A Biography - David Sweetman: Pimlico, pounds 10

Renault was one of my favourite writers as a young teenager, and I can remember dark rumours circulating that this mysterious novelist, whose flyleaf was cryptically short on detail, was Really a Man. Well now I know. She was a lesbian - not a term she liked - who lived for 35 years in South Africa with a woman she met while nursing in Britain. She wrote six novels of contemporary life until she found her subject, ancient Greece, about which she wrote eight more, some of them classics. Sweetman gives useful insights into the more puzzling aspects of Renault - suggesting why, for instance, women are given such a hard time in her novels. He is also concerned to show her sympathy for the politically oppressed - not just homosexuals, but the disenfranchised masses of her adopted home.