MARY RENAULT: A Biography by David Sweetman (Harcourt Brace: $13.95; 322 pp., illustrated). Although her historical novels remain enormously popular throughout Europe and America, Mary Renault chose to lead a secluded existence with her longtime companion, Julie Mullard. Sweetman's intelligent, balanced biography traces Renault's life from her unhappy childhood, which she sought to escape in books, through her successful career as a writer. Fans of "The Persian Boy," will be surprised to discover that its author spent most of her life in South Africa and was an early opponent of the apartheid system.
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