The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - BOOKS INTERVIEW/REVIEWS - By Alas­tair Mab­bott

An Al­mond For A Par­rot by Wray De­laney (Harper Collins, £7.99)

In New­gate Prison in 1756, Tully True good awaits trial, and pos­si­ble ex­e­cu­tion, for mur­der. Raised by a drunk gam­bler, she was mar­ried at 12 on the un­der­stand­ing that her hus­band would come back for her when she was old enough. Then, how­ever, came her father’s sec­ond mar­riage, a new step-family and a sex­ual awak­en­ing which would de­ter­mine the course of her life. It’s easy to see why chil­dren’s au­thor Sally Gard­ner strapped on a pseu­do­nym for this. End­lessly en­gag­ing and erotic, it’s a spir­i­tual de­scen­dant of Fanny Hill and Moll Flan­ders with shades of The Sixth Sense thrown in, for Tully can see dead peo­ple, and she can make other peo­ple see them too. In De­laney’s hands eroti­cism and magic blend into each other in an un­in­hib­ited height­ened re­al­ity which nev­er­the­less has a dark side, pre­fig­ured by one of Tully’s scarier ap­pari­tions. Her emo­tional roller­coaster of a life brings the bodice-rip­per into the 21st cen­tury and makes grip­ping read­ing.

Out­landish Knight by Mi­noo Din­shaw (Pen­guin, £10.99)

So con­fi­dent is Din­shaw, prob­a­bly rightly, that his read­ers will al­ready know who Steven Runci­man was that he en­tirely omits any in­tro­duc­tion out­lin­ing his achieve­ments. The unini­ti­ated even­tu­ally learn that he was a his­to­rian spe­cial­is­ing in Byzan­tine stud­ies: a con­tro­ver­sial pop­u­lariser who treated history as lit­er­a­ture and found fame with his three­vol­ume History Of The Cru­sades. A Bor­ders lad born in 1903 to a Lib­eral MP, he led a dis­tin­guished life. From study­ing at Eton with Ge­orge Or­well and Cyril Con­nolly to be­com­ing Astrologer Royal to the Greek Court, Grand Or­a­tor of the Greek Ortho­dox Church and hon­orary dervish, Din­shaw’s Runci­man is a com­plex and fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter, but a snob­bish and emo­tion­ally de­tached man who doesn’t al­ways come across well. As a bi­og­ra­phy, it’s ar­guably too long and de­tailed, and the prose of­ten feels over­cooked, but it’s clearly a labour of love and shows how many and var­ied as­pects of 20th-cen­tury cul­ture were loosely linked by this ex­tra­or­di­nary man.

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