The Feral Beast: McEwan's very sweet house sale

Back to school with a vengeance
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The Independent Online

Martin Amis once claimed Ian McEwan was a big hippy, saying he owned "several kaftans" and even beads. These days, it's hard not to admire the novelist's canny embrace of capitalism.

The Atonement author has put his house on the market just as he releases his latest novel, Sweet Tooth. The book, about spy recruitment in Cambridge in the Seventies, topped last week's fiction charts, and has been enjoying plenty of publicity. So what better moment to instruct Knight Frank to put his country retreat, where he wrote most of the novel, up for sale?

Egypt Cottage, an extended four-bedroom property in the Chilterns, is being marketed for an astonishing £2.45m, considerably more than the £1.6m he and his wife, Annalena McAfee, paid for it seven years ago.

McEwan hasn't been shy about promoting the house as much as the book, giving interviews to glossy property supplements. "We entertained lots," he says. "We always referred to the guest room on the first floor as 'Julian's room', as he [Barnes] used to come and stay with us a fair amount. The Amis children came out to stay." Such shameless name-dropping would once have been considered a tad déclassé, but who cares when you've got real estate to flog? The house is, I understand, already under offer.

Mum's the word

Miriam Gross has enjoyed favourable reviews for her memoir, An Almost English Life, discussed by DJ Taylor in his column today. The former literary editor of The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph was born in Jerusalem to German parents, who later fled to Britain. Her account of her subsequent exploits in literary London and Fleet Street has been called "damnably readable" by John Sutherland in the New Statesman.

But by far the biggest accolade has come from The Mail on Sunday, which awarded the book a rare five stars. Their reviewer, Kathryn Hughes, called it "riveting" and "delightfully candid". One can only imagine it was a lack of space that prevented her mentioning how successful Miriam's daughter has become: Susannah Gross happens to be literary editor of The Mail on Sunday. Piccolo mondo!

Mystery at The Groucho

Most people would probably rather John Lewis ran the country than the current coalition. Well, as it happens, he's certainly quite involved. Not the department store, but a mysterious millionaire director of The Groucho Club, called John H J Lewis, who gives Jeremy Hunt thousands of pounds.

It's all above board, as the donations are declared in some detail on the Register of Members' Interests. There are also donations for thousands of pounds from a Miss Daisy Lewis, who is, apparently, his daughter. Among the many donations listed is one for £4,000, which was used to pay for a five-day trip to New York in August 2009.

During this visit, Hunt, then culture secretary, met representatives of News Corp. Within days, James Murdoch told David Cameron that The Sun would switch allegiance to back the Tories. Now that Hunt has been promoted to Health Secretary, presumably he won't be needing any such trips to Manhattan. And hanging out at The Groucho has never been good for anyone's health.

Model behaviour?

Why are the publishers of the News of the World suddenly saying that the case brought by Mary-Ellen Field is legally worthless? She's the former aide to model Elle Macpherson, who was sacked when her boss thought she was leaking stories about her to the press, or so Field says. (In fact, they were getting their stories from phone hacking).

The odd thing is that, until now, neither News International nor Macpherson had publicly challenged Field's account.

Ex-NoW hack Neville Thurlbeck has even apologised for what the paper did to Field's career.

And yet, now NI is refusing to countenance her claim for damages. Macpherson, who happily presents Britain & Ireland's Next Top Model on Sky Living, previously helped the police with their prosecution of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman, so it would be a surprise if she were to support News International against Field. She was saying nothing when I called yesterday.

Phillips' faux pas

The question of whether Melanie Phillips is living in quite the same world as the rest of us rears its head once again.

The Daily Mail blogger is never backwards in promoting her views, which have changed over the years from left to somewhere over the opposite horizon. In her latest bulletin, on the Cabinet reshuffle, she says the Education Department's carefully orchestrated plan "lies in ruins". This is because Michael Gove's "docile junior ministers have been replaced by two potentially destabilising incomers, Lynne Truss and David Laws".

This is news to those of us who, last time we thought about Truss, were busy looking for punctuation mistakes in her book Eats Shoots and Leaves. Maybe Mel means Liz Truss, who was promoted to junior Education minister. Or maybe not; you can never quite tell with Mel.

Exit, stage right

France's richest man, Bernard Arnault, says he's off to Belgium. This surprise announcement came just 24 hours after the French president, François Hollande, said he was pressing ahead with a 75 per cent super tax for the rich.

Arnault, chief executive of Louis Vuitton, says his decision has nothing to do with this, and he will continue to pay taxes in France and keep his French nationality.

Still, last time France had a socialist president, Arnault emigrated to America. So why the sudden wish to become a Belgian? He's citing "personal and business reasons", whatever they may be.

Good laud, Mr Murdoch

Never mind what we all think of last week's reshuffle, the only man whose opinion really counts has spoken. Yes, Rupert Murdoch has given his verdict. "Cameron's UK cabinet reshuffle first class and probably secures his position for full term," he pronounced yesterday on Twitter. "Previous ditherer- in-chief looks better." Well, he did; until this timely reminder of who actually runs the country.

Jeer up!

And, lastly, we sign off the summer of sport with a cheap joke. Why did 80,000 people boo George Osborne in the Olympic Stadium the other day? Because it holds 80,000 people. Back next week!

Jeepers peepers

Pippa Middleton watchers – peepers? – will be interested to learn one "potential suitor" is off the market. The last of the four Van Cutsem brothers, William, is now engaged to Rosie Ruck Keene. Over the years, the brothers' weddings have generated royal gossip: in 2004, Prince Charles boycotted the eldest's nuptials, after learning Camilla would be seated several rows behind; in 2007, Miss Ruck Keene was earmarked for Prince William; and last year, one breathless hack suggested Pippa might bag the young Mr Van Cutsem. Never mind that neither was up for grabs, as they had long been going out with each other.