Bruce Chatwin once wrote that 'however closely the narrative may fit the facts, the fictional process has been at work' (What am I doing here, London: Pan Books, 1990, p.xi). Sometimes the narrative doesn't fit the facts...
I've been reading Susan Richards' book Lost and found in Russia: encounters in a deep heartland (London: IB Tauris, 2009). It counterpoints the lives of a number of the author's Russian friends against developments in Russia between 1992-2008. Towards its end (p.249), the author describes a visit to the house of two friends to watch the 2006 football World Cup semi-final between France and Portugal. One friend, Misha, is by this time chairman of his local football club. He has become a successful businessman despite the growing spread of corruption in Russian business:
'For Misha the French team played a beautiful game, but the Portuguese - pah! Each time a Portuguese player fell over, accusing a French player of foul play, Misha roared with indignation. Portugal's narrow victory left him inconsolable: it was the last straw, this most public triumph of the sly ones who snatched victory from the honest men by bending the rules!'
So there you have it - a telling glimpse into the psyche of one of the author's friends and, by association, into Russia itself.
Except... Portugal didn't win. France won. As a football fan, I knew that. The book's introduction gives credit, among others, to an editor and copy-editor. Maybe they aren't football fans.
The book up to this point is a great read, but there are signs of a lack of proofreading (hyphens where there shouldn't be hyphens, for instance). But this is a mistake of a different order. The point of Susan Richards' anecdote is undermined. And you then start to wonder what else in the book is wrong...
I seem to recall someone, at an event I attended a while ago, saying that the publishing houses carry out much less checking of manuscripts than they used to do. This seems to be one piece of evidence to that effect. As an author who will be looking for a mainstream publisher for his book, that gives me pause for thought.