The Golden Gate

by Vikram Seth. The third of four verse novels I’m reading in bits and pieces and all at the same time, kinda.

I have to say that this one is going nowhere for me, absolutely nowhere. The lives of a group of San Francisco yuppies, rendered in 690 Pushkin sonnets. Modeled on Eugene Onegin, one assumes.

I haven’t read Eugene Onegin, but ouch is all I can say about this one. Really ouch.

Definitely a cautionary tale for those with verse novel ambitions, I would say.

Be interested to hear from anyone who has had a better experience.

Published by

Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

5 thoughts on “The Golden Gate”

  1. It’s some time since I read it, but I quite enjoyed it. I mean, it felt a bit abbreviated: 690 sonnets isn’t really very long for a whole novel. And I was never convinced it gained enough by being in verse to stand as an argument for the verse novel, so I wouldn’t make any particularly big claims for it, but I didn’t dislike it.

    What’s bothering you about it?

  2. Thanks for responding, Harry. I suppose it’s not really fair to be reading something like this alongside the likes of Ciaran Carson, Elizabeth Barret-Browning and Anne Carson (“The Beauty of the Husband”), all of which have a poetic density and complexity definitely lacking for me in this one. And possibly, the fact that I’ve never been to San Francisco plays into its lack of resonance for me. Then, the iambic tetrameter and the rhyming scheme completely get in the way for me and make everything seem cheesy, frankly – I can’t even say whether the characters/plot development are interesting, at this point.

    The following sonnet (2.53), for example, describing a newly-infatuated character at work, grates on me and strikes me as meter-driven, rhyme-driven and really, just unfunny:

    But Liz, with promptitude and pertness,
    Displaying a resplendent smile,
    A near-extravagant alertness,
    And murmuring, “When in doubt, file,”
    Storms through (in spite of all distractions)
    A block of six Secure Transactions
    In record time. Her colleagues sigh:
    “Poor Liz – I’m sure she must be high.”
    (One mutters: “Coke – she looks so hyper.”
    Another: “Acid can be rough.
    I wonder where she gets the stuff.”
    A third: “Speed leads to speed.” With riper
    Worldliness, her boss says: “She’s
    Hooked on a stronger drug than these.”

    However, I am only on the second of thirteen chapters – maybe it will grow on me as I progress. Your endorsement gives me the courage to persevere!

    Thanks again, Nic

  3. I’ve heard of other people delighted by Golden Gate and I’m intrigued by the notion, as well as the ambition. But whenever I’ve picked the book up, whenever I’ve flipped it open and read a few lines (or a whole sonnet) the experience has been so cringe-inducing that I have to put it back down. Doggerel verse can be great fun, but the sonnet you quote is just lame.

  4. Then, the iambic tetrameter and the rhyming scheme completely get in the way for me and make everything seem cheesy, frankly

    I think if you’re going to enjoy Golden Gate, you have to be able to enjoy the artificiality of it. If it’s just irritating you,I doubt that it’s going to stop doing so any time soon.

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