by Suhasini Patni
Most people recognize Vikram Seth as the author of the frightfully long A Suitable Boy, one of the longest books written in the English language in a single volume, touching almost 1500 pages. Yet people overlook his other commendable feat, The Golden Gate, a novel written completely in verse, including its acknowledgements, dedication and table of contents. In fact, even the title is in verse: “The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth.” Vikram Seth acknowledges that attempting to write an entire novel in the form of modern poetry is a risk and inserts his personal struggles into the narration from time to time.
A week ago, when I finished
Writing the chapter you have 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
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.
The Golden Gate is simple, elegant, thought provoking, and moving. It is a great way to start reading or rereading poetry. Its straightforward plot unfolds in the form of sonnets in iambic tetrameter, defying all norms of what can and cannot pass as a novel and surpassing every expectation. For the longest time, I avoided the novel, fearing long, complexly structured verse. However, once I started—in the middle of my first semester in college no less—I found it a breeze as the words glided through the pages and I could read through and understand every sentiment they meant to portray. It was an experience to remember, a pleasant yet heart-wrenching journey through emotions.
The story begins with the discussion of the lack of love in the life of the workaholic protagonist. He is set up on a date with a lawyer, through an advertisement in a newspaper placed by his former girlfriend. Though he is furious at the medium through which he is set up, he and the lawyer turn out to be the perfect match as she appreciates his extreme ambition in the workplace, and also identifies with it. However, there is soon trouble in paradise, with both of them continuously fighting over her cat Charlemagne. Meanwhile, the lawyer’s brother is involved in a homosexual relationship with one of the protagonist’s colleagues. However, the brother’s faith in Jesus Christ proves an obstacle to their relationship.
The plot of the Golden Gate revolves around unrequited love and ends on a sentimental note, that at times, left me with a lump in my throat. However, Seth’s verse in this novel has a way of distracting the reader from the sentiment and concentrating on comedic and absurd moments that take place in these “real-life relationships.” He adds many seemingly irrelevant yet witty passages about how bad Charlemagne smells, how to feed an iguana, and many more. The storyline concentrates on simple gut-wrenching reality, and uses sophisticated and uncomplicated poetry to draw in the reader, providing a blissful journey seen through the eyes of many different characters and events. Not only does Seth distract his readers through comic passages, he also uses his book as a medium to discuss life in the 21st century with its fast-growing technology and obsession with war and fanaticism.
Killing is dying. This equation
Carries no mystical import.
It is the literal truth. Our nation
Has long believed war was a sport.
The Golden Gate addresses themes of changing values and morals, the confused state of youth, finding love in this consumerist culture, and surviving under the ordeals of a cruel non-accepting society. Seth splendidly portrays feelings of insecurity and desperation through his characters in this beautifully written and powerful commentary on today’s world. The book starts and ends with sexuality and its place in the world: Is it wrong to have a same-sex relationship? Does religion teach love? Does it only teach a sort of conditional love? Can people survive without love? Does everyone even want love?
The Golden Gate is a masterpiece that uses verse to question different perceptions and emotions; it remains one of a kind.
Suhasini Patni is a 19 year-old first-year undergraduate from Rajasthan, India, studying at Ashoka University. She loves reading and is studying English literature. Vikram Seth is one of her favorite authors.