From the fact-checking department: Let me count the ways

The errors and inaccuracies of Richard Bradford.

Here, for the record, is a list of some of the factual errors alluded to in my review of Richard Bradford's book Martin Amis: The Biography:

- "Around 1956-57 Martin's parents' marriage came close to collapse, due primarily to Hilly's affair with the journalist Henry Fairlie. Fairlie resembled the sort of character played by Leslie Phillips or Terry-Thomas in Ealing Comedies". Neither Leslie Phillips nor Terry-Thomas appeared in an Ealing comedy. Terry-Thomas did, however, play Bertrand Welch in the adaptation of Lucky Jim.

- "Butterfield was fully aware of Peterhouse's reputation as the most conservative ... of the Cambridge colleges - Tom Sharpe's Porterhouse Blue was comprised partly of stories, many accurate, of the bizarre, ritualistic archaisms of the place." Herbert Butterfield may have been aware of Peterhouse's reputation in 1961, when he interviewed Kingsley Amis for a Fellowship, but Tom Sharpe's novel wouldn't have reinforced that impression for another 13 years.

- "Kingsley Amis met Elizabeth Jane Howard at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in October 1962. She was, that year, director of the event. Its theme was 'Sex in Literature', drawing in such luminaries as Joseph Heller and Carson McCullers and encouraging flirtatious banter between all involved." I cannot be certain on this point; accounts differ. But it seems that Elizabeth Jane Howard was the honorary artistic director for that year's festival, of which "Sex in Literature" was not the theme, merely the title of one panel discussion. I am fairly confident that there was no flirtatious banter between Kingsley Amis and Joseph Heller.

- "Martin's and Philip's initial encounter with Jane occurred shortly after their return from Majorca and is described in Experience, rather as if a piece by Iris Murdoch had been rewritten by a copy-editor with some cognizance of the real world." Iris Murdoch possessed cognizance of the real world.

- "Thirty-five years later the letters between Amis senior and Philip Larkin would be published and recognized as the most outrageous epistolary novel ever". The letters of Kingsley Amis and the letters of Philip Larkin were published almost a decade apart. (Neither was recognised as the most outrageous epistolary novel ever - or rather, as half of one.)

- "His tutor Jonathan Wordsworth was the poet's great, great, great, great nephew and in case anyone suspected otherwise his rooms were generously distributed with 'family' memorabilia". Leaving aside the use of "distributed" in that sentence, it should be noted that despite the memorabilia, some might have suspected that Jonathan Wordsworth was in fact William Wordsworth's great-great-great nephew. (Christopher Ricks once said, memorably, that Jonathan Wordsworth had an Oedipal relationship to the poet, although he was only "a collateral descendant".)

- "Like most major writers he rarely if ever admits to anything so compromising as influence". It's hard to know where to start. Let this admission, from a 1980 article never collected in a book, stand for all the hundreds of reasons why Bradford's claim is false: "That bit about 'wiry wings' [in The Rachel Papers] was stolen ... from Dickens ... I once lifted a whole paragraph of mesmeric jargon from J G Ballard's The Drowned World."

- "John Gross, then editor of the TLS, and guest at one of the numerous, informal gatherings at Lemmons, asked Martin if he had any interest in a full-time junior post. He did but asked if the appointment could be deferred for about six months ... He began work officially at the TLS in March 1972." John Gross did not move from the New Statesman to the TLS until 1974 (as Bradford later informs us).

- "[In 1973, Clive James] had only been in London for three years." Clive James came down from Cambridge in 1969 (or thereabouts), but he had lived in London for three years in the 1960s, having left Australia in 1961.

- "'To get to [Tina Brown's] room in college I would have to step over waiting TV crews, interviewers, profilists.'... Martin's description is certainly not hyperbole." It is hyperbole.

- Jeremy Treglown did not work "mainly for the TLS" in 1977. At that time, he taught at UCL; he joined the TLS in 1979. According the Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive, established in part by Jeremy Treglown, his first article appeared in the issue of 23 November 1979.

- Bradford quotes Clive James as saying that Leavis retired in 1964. However you define "retired" in relation to an academic, Leavis didn't retire in 1964.

- "Martin and Mary and later Angela were the Becks and Posh of their day." Really?

- "Martin continued for the simple reason that Kavanagh had settled a fee that went far beyond any advance even the most popular novelist could hope for: £30,000." At around the same time, Joseph Heller - hardly the most popular novelist - received around a $1m for Good As Gold.

- Ernest Hemingway is not an example of "the kind of essayist that the British press had not previously countenanced", and which Amis hoped to become.

- Philip Roth (b. 1933) and John Updike (b. 1932) are not "near contemporaries" of Vladimir Nabokov (b. 1899).

- Saul Bellow had not "three turbulent, and failed, marriages" but four.

- "Shortly after Money was published Martin wrote an essay for Atlantic Monthly on Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March". It was written more than a decade later.

- George Steiner's The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. was published in 1981, not 1979. Malcolm Bradbury, in one of his numerous books about fiction, described it as a "long novella", and recalls that it was one of the books - Amis's Other People was another - considered for that year's Booker Prize, on which he was chair of judges. The prize eventually went to Midnight's Children.

- In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's character does not awake "in full knowledge of what fate has in store for him for the next twenty-four hours."

- Peter Hitchens doesn't contribute articles to "the Daily Mail that made Thatcherism seem spinelessly irresolute by comparison" - he did so for the Express and then the Mail on Sunday.

Leo Robson is the lead fiction reviewer for the New Statesman.

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Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett asks how we shape history and how much is beyond our control

In Wychwood, a great house in Oxfordshire, the wealthy build walls around themselves to keep out ugliness, poverty, political change. Or at least they try to. 

The great cutting heads of the Crossrail tunnel-boring machines were engines of the future drilling into the past. The whole railway project entailed a crawl back into history as archaeologists worked hand in hand with engineers, preserving – as far as possible – the ancient treasures they discovered along the way. One of the most striking finds, relics of which are now on display at the Museum of London Docklands, was a batch of skeletons, unearthed near Liverpool Street Station, in which the bacteria responsible for the Great Plague of 1665 were identified for the first time. Past and present are never truly separable.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s ambitious first novel ends in 1665 in the aftermath of that plague, and it, too, dances between past and present, history and modernity. Like those skeletons buried for centuries beneath Bishopsgate, it is rooted in the ground. The eponymous “peculiar ground” is Wychwood, a great house in Oxfordshire, a place where the wealthy can build walls around themselves to keep out ugliness, poverty, political change. Or at least that is what they believe they can do; it doesn’t spoil the intricacies of this novel to say that, in the end, they will not succeed.

It is a timely idea. No doubt Hughes-Hallett was working on her novel long before a certain presidential candidate announced that he would build a great wall, but this present-day undiplomatic reality can never be far from the reader’s mind, and nor will the questions of Britain’s connection to or breakage with our European neighbours. Hughes-Hallett’s last book, a biography of Gabriele d’Annunzio, “the John the Baptist of fascism”, won a slew of awards when it was published four years ago and demonstrated the author’s skill in weaving together the forces of culture and politics.

Peculiar Ground does not confine itself to a single wall. Like Tom Stoppard’s classic play Arcadia, it sets up a communication between centuries in the grounds at Wychwood. In the 17th century, John Norris is a landscape-maker, transforming natural countryside into artifice on behalf of the Earl of Woldingham, who has returned home from the depredations of the English Civil War. In the 20th century a new cast of characters inhabits Wychwood, but there are powerful resonances of the past in this place, not least because those who look after the estate – foresters, gardeners, overseers – appear to be essentially the same people. It is a kind of manifestation of what has been called the Stone Tape theory, after a 1972 television play by Nigel Kneale in which places carry an ineradicable echo of their history, causing ghostly lives to manifest themselves through the years.

But the new story in Peculiar Ground broadens, heading over to Germany as it is divided between East and West in 1961, and again as that division falls away in 1989. Characters’ lives cannot be divorced from their historical context. The English breakage of the civil war echoes through Europe’s fractures during the Cold War. The novel asks how much human actors shape history and how much is beyond their control.

At times these larger questions can overwhelm the narrative. As the book progresses we dance between a succession of many voices, and there are moments when their individual stories are less compelling than the political or historical situations that surround them. But perhaps that is the point. Nell, the daughter of the land agent who manages Wychwood in the 20th century, grows up to work in prison reform and ­observes those who live in confinement. “An enclosed community is toxic,” she says. “It festers. It stagnates. The wrong people thrive there. The sort of people who actually like being walled in.”

The inhabitants of this peculiar ground cannot see what is coming. The novel’s modern chapters end before the 21st century, but the future is foreshadowed in the person of Selim Malik, who finds himself hiding out at Wychwood in 1989 after he becomes involved in the publication of an unnamed author’s notorious book. “The story you’re all so worked up about is over,” he says to a journalist writing about the supposed end of the Cold War. “The story I’m part of is the one you need to think about.”

A little heavy handed, maybe – but we know Selim is right. No doubt, however, Wychwood will endure. The landscape of this novel – its grounds and waters and walls – is magically and movingly evoked, and remains in the imagination long after the reader passes beyond its gates. 

Erica Wagner’s “Chief Engineer: the Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge” is published by Bloomsbury

Erica Wagner is a New Statesman contributing writer and a judge of the 2014 Man Booker Prize. A former literary editor of the Times, her books include Ariel's Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of “Birthday Letters” and Seizure.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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