Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

The Golden Gate (A Novel in Verse)

Posted by nliakos on September 20, 2014

by Vikram Seth (Vintage International 1991; copyright 1986)

I’ve never read a novel in verse before. Is there such a thing? Since Homer, has anyone else done this? Even Shakespeare’s sonnets, I believe, consisted of only 14 lines. But Vikram Seth has written an entire novel of 307 pages (13 chapters) in sonnet form: iambic tetrameter, to be exact. It seems to have been a kind of bet he made with himself, which took him over a year to complete. Even the acknowledgement, dedication, and table of contents are sonnets! The rhyme scheme is consistently ABAB, CCDD, EFFE, GG (unlike Shakespeare).

It’s the story of John, Janet, Liz, Phil, and Ed, who live in the San Francisco Bay Area and spend the thirteen chapters mixing and matching themselves into couples. The plot seems predictable enough at first but suddenly launches into surprising twists and turns. The plot includes loneliness, relationships, dying parents, an olive harvest, homosexual attraction, religious fervor, hostile pets, antiwar protests, and more. Seth inserts himself from time to time into the story, addressing the reader, as in the first few stanzas of Chapter Five, which begin with the following:

A week ago, when I had finished

Writing the chapter you’ve just read

And with avidity undiminished

Was charting out the course ahead,

An editor–at a plush party

(Well-wined, -provisioned, speechy, hearty)

Hosted by (long live!) Thomas Cook

Where my Tibetan travel book (N.B. He really did write one, in 1983.)

Was honored–seized my arm” “Dear fellow,

What’s your next work?” “A novel. . .” “Great!

We hope that you, dear Mr. Seth–“

“. . . In verse,” I added. He turned yellow.

“How marvelously quaint,” he said,

And subsequently cut me dead.

A completely unique novel and a very satisfying read.

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