22 NOVEMBER 1997, Page 43

Richard Lamb

I found Nigel Nicolson's Long Life (Weidenfeld, £20) fascinating. I belong to the same generation, and his colourful description of the ups and downs of his public and family life aroused in me both nostalgia and déjàvu.

Like Norman Stone I am convinced that Ian Mitchell in his The Costs of a Reputa- tion: Aldington versus Tolstoy (Topical Books) is correct in his well argued new assessment of the famous libel case. There was hanky-panky in the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence so that key documents were available to the prosecution but not to the defence; skilfully handled, they could have produced a con- trary verdict.

The most enjoyable novel I encountered was Francis King's Dead Letters (Constable, £16.99): the story of a beautiful hetero- sexual Australian boy who is befriended by a dying Sicilian writer who is married to a Swede and modelled on Lampedusa. Francis King describes vividly the contrast between Australia and the life-style of the decaying aristocracy in sun-drenched Palermo, and paints poignantly the bizarre way in which their emotional involvement developed.