Literati shun the limelight at London launch of hoax biography

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The Independent Online
IT ONLY needed Nat Tate, tormented American artist, to waltz into the packed party and start signing copies of his biography.

That would have made this book launch and this notable week in literary history complete. As a book launch, last night's event carved out a new aesthetic territory. Was it post-ironic, simply surreal or as abstract expressionist as Tate himself?

An intended launch for a specialist art biography had turned into a celebration of one of the great literary hoaxes of the century.

As The Independent revealed on Tuesday, the New York art world was fooled at the American launch of William Boyd's memoir of Nat Tate. In fact the book is fiction, and Tate - his two names remarkably similar to London galleries - never existed.

Last night was to be have been the turn of Britain's literary and art fraternity to swallow the bait and weep over Tate's suicide and praise all his abstract expressionist works.

But with the secret out, last night's launch at Oliver Peyton's new restaurant Mash in London's Great Portland Street allowed guests, who seemed to consist largely of journalists, a rare opportunity to bask in their lack of gullibility.

In contrast to the New York launch, however, there was no reading last night by David Bowie, co-director of 21 publishing which has put out Boyd's brilliantly constructed book. Bowie and his wife Iman cancelled plans to come to the London launch, remaining - rather bravely in the circumstances - in New York.

William Boyd was not about to step in to the rock star turned publisher's shoes. Before the party he had issued a delightfully arcane statement.

Tate, he said, was "a fascinating investigation of the blurry line between the invented and the authentic". It was "a way of pushing this particular hybrid form - the fictional biography".

Last night, he didn't want to elaborate on that. His speech consisted of one sentence : "My only regret is that Nat Tate is not here tonight." But he probably didn't need to elaborate on that.

One branch of Waterstone's reported yesterday that it had had numerous requests for "the book about the American artist written about in The Independent".

Sarah Lyall, London correspondent of the New York Times, remarked that New Yorkers like to appear chic and cool and to admit to not having heard of a New York artist would have been most uncool.

In London, last night the guests at Boyd's book launch were able to give New Yorkers a lesson in artistic cool. There was a sense of fun among the wine and canapes but it was mixed with a sense of relief.