The Golden Gate – Review

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The Golden Gate: A Novel In Verse
Age: Adult
Location: San Francisco
Genre: Poetry – Fiction

Set in San Francisco during the 1980s, Vikram Seth tells the tale of star-crossed yuppies, with a few love triangles, and major obstacles thrown into the mix. The book is written entirely in verse and is broken down into 13 chapters.

Seth’s justification for writing in verse:

Why, asks a friend, attempt tetrameter?
Because it once was noble, yet
Capers before the proud pentameter,
Tyrant of English. I regret
To see this marvelous swift meter
Demean its heritage, and peter
Into mere Hudlibrastic tricks,
Unapostolic knocks and knicks.
But why take all this quite so badly?
I would not, had I world and time
To wait for reason, rhythm, rhyme
To reassert themselves, but sadly
The time is not remote when I
Will not be here to wait. That’s why.

This book is very true to San Francisco life, much as Armistad Maupin’s Tales of the City. Also written and set in the 1980s, the story still resonates with the San Francisco I know today. Many of the themes are still the same: unrequited love, homosexual love, friendship, and adored pets. The love story begins when Jan fills out a personals ad in the newspaper for her best friend John in an attempt to help him get some dates and find true love. As events unfurl, John loves Liz, and Phil, a single dad, loves Ed, but Ed’s faith in Jesus is an obstacle to their relationship. The poem is written in a wry and wonderful humor, but is also serious. There is love, tragedy, separation and character growth. There are a number of characters to relate to even on the most minimal of commonalities. At the end of the book, I wanted to know more about the characters and where their lives progressed. If there is ever a sequel to this book, I will be the first in line waiting for it.

What I appreciate the most is that in a few short lines Seth is able to portray back-stories, personality traits and character developments. That is the gift and brevity of poetry. Here is a snippet of the poem:

John looks about him with enjoyment.
What a man needs, he thinks, is health;
Well-paid, congenial employment;
A house; a modicum of wealth;
Some sunlight; coffee and the papers;
Artichoke hearts adorned with capers;
A Burberry trenchcoat; a Peugeot;
And in the evening, some Rameau
Or Couperin; a home-cooked dinner;
A Stilton, and a little port;
And so to a duvet. In short,
In life’s brief game to be a winner
A man must have … oh yes, above
All else, of course, someone to love.

More creative bloggers have reviewed this book as a poem in the same meter as The Golden Gate. This one, over at Hardly Written, is one of my particular favorite reviews. If you liked the Tales of the City series, have a good sense of humor and enjoy well written verse, then this is definitely one book that I highly recommend.

The Golden Gate: A Novel in Verse
By Vikram Seth
Vintage International, 1986
ISBN 9780679734574
307 pages
Book 23 of 2011
Find this book at your local library

 The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth

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