Katy Guest: Chastity and Futility, the book launch twins

By Katy Guest
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The Independent Culture

We were eating smoked salmon and melted vodka jelly in a boiling central London restaurant recently when Glen David Gold said to Sarah Waters, "We need to talk about futility." Or rather he said, "We need to talk about Futility," because both authors had just read William Gerhardie's out-of-print 1922 novel and turned out to be eloquent admirers of it. At that moment I almost wished Gold were less well-mannered than he clearly is and had not drawn me charmingly into the conversation; I could have sat back and selfishly listened to the two writers talk all evening.

Gold was on a flying visit to London to launch his new novel, Sunnyside (hailed in these pages as "a cane-twirling, bowler-doffing triumph"), his first since the best-selling Carter Beats the Devil in 2001. His publishers didn't mind that it had taken him eight years to write his second book, they told him. But they hadn't forgotten a certain forfeit he promised them when he first missed his deadline, involving dressing up in a French maid's outfit and serving tea to the entire Sceptre staff. Gold was due to visit the Sceptre offices soon, at teatime, his editor reminded him. "I'll keep my promise," the shame-faced author replied. "And I've noticed that there's a fancy-dress hire shop just around the corner..."

Gold's will surely rank among the most civilised book launches of the summer season (he even asked guests to raise their glasses and send a toast by video phone to his wife, the writer Alice Sebold, in San Francisco). But the hottest, in more ways than one, was held at Daunt Books the following evening for Hephzibah Anderson's beautiful memoir, Chastened. There is nothing like a heatwave, a library-like environment and a book about the author's year-long vow of chastity to add a certain unspoken frisson to a publication party, it turns out.

I am rather proud to have been friends with Hephzibah for many years and several thousand book-launch parties, so if I say here that her book is tender, clever, heartbreaking and funny and that every single woman and man should read it before even thinking of going on a date again, it is an analysis that is wholly partial. But it is all true.

"I wish I had known that the year of writing it would be so much harder than the year of doing it," she told guests, including her long-suffering mum. Well, at least at the end of the writing she had a swishy launch party to look forward to.