15 NOVEMBER 1997, Page 39

Francis King

The best novel to come my way was Santa Evita (Anchor, £6.99) by the Argentinian Tomas Eloy Martinez — a superb reinven- tion of the life and, more importantly, the afterlife of Eva Peron. As I read of the scenes of hysterical idolatory in the aftermath of Evita's death, I thought, `Well, that could never happen over here.' How wrong I was proved to be within a few months!

The best non-fiction was Phyllis Grosskurth's Byron: The Flawed Angel (Sceptre, £8.99) in which an awesome mas- tery of the fruits of painstaking research is allied to innumerable piercing psychologi- cal insights. It puzzles me that, whereas this book was acclaimed in America, here it received a press far less enthusiastic than that accorded to at least one intellectually flimsier literary biography to appear in the same 12 months.