TETE-A-tete: The Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre .
Hazel Rowley.

The bizarre and often turbulent story of France's most famous 20th century literary couple is told in this revelatory and entertaining book.

Sartre (1905-80) and De Beauvoir (1908-86) were free-thinking intellectuals who were lovers and soul-mates for half a century, although they never married and had an amazingly open relationship.

As exponents of the philosophy of existentialism, freedom tempered with responsibility, they did what they liked when it came to sex.

Individually, they wrote a vast number of cerebral and often controversial articles, memoirs, and also some very successful plays and books. Her most famous book was the feminist The Second Sex in 1949, which caused outrage at the time.

When one reads of the amount of liquor Sartre consumed for years, and the quantities of amphetamines that he habitually ate like sweets, it is remarkable that the quality of his work remained as high as it did. But inevitably his health suffered and his final years were wretched.

The literary legacy, courage and ground-breaking lifestyle of this extraordinary couple deserve respect, whatever reservations one might have about their behaviour.

Anthony Looch