The Golden Gate : a novel in verse

by Vikram Seth

Paperback, 1991





New York : Vintage International, 1991.


The Golden Gate is a brilliantly achieved novel written in verse. Set in the 1980s in the affluence and sunshine of California's Silicon Valley, it is an exuberant and witty story of twenty-somethings looking for love, pleasure and the meaning of life. It was awarded the 1986 British Airways Commonwealth Poetry Prize.

User reviews

LibraryThing member janeajones
Published in 1986, Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate chronicles the search for love by late-20-something yuppies in the Bay Area. The reader dances, with tetrameter sonnets, through the lives of these young people, very contemporary, yet in a world before cell phones and the internet changed all our
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lives. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel though it verged on silliness and unbelievability at times. As editorial poet, Seth bounces in and out of the narrative, commenting on cats and iguanas and poetry itself. The entire work, including acknowledgements, afterword, and the table of contents adheres to the form Seth prescribed for himself.

Here, for instance, is the Table of Contents:

1 The world's discussed while friends are eating.
2 A cache of billets-doux arrive.
3 A concert generates a meeting.
4 A house is warmed. Sheep come alive.
5 Olives are picked in prime condition.
6 A cat reacts to competition.
7 Arrests occur. A speech is made.
8 Coffee is drunk, and Scrabble played.
9 A quarrel is initiated.
10 Vines rest in early winter light.
11 The Winking Owl fills up at night.
12 An old affair is renovated.
13 Friends meditate on friends who've gone
The months go by; the world goes on.

And, Seth's justification for using iambic tetrameter:

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 Hudibrastic tricks,
Unapostolic knacks 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.

Absolutely delicious.
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LibraryThing member SR510
The tale of John, in San Francisco;
How to put this? Well, let's see...
Were he a cookie from Nabisco,
A Nilla Wafer's what he'd be.
An ordinary kind of guy,
No one you'd notice passing by.
From him, the story branches out
To friends and lovers, and throughout,
The sonnet form is the exclusive
Method used
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to tell the tale.
And yet, it never comes off stale,
Or cutesy, hackneyed, or intrusive.
This novel merits great affection;
These lines are but a pale reflection.
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LibraryThing member AsYouKnow_Bob
Astonishingly, Seth makes this work. Not just a good poem, it's ALSO a Great American Novel. A remarkable achievement.
LibraryThing member herschelian
Brilliant novel of a group of friends in the San Francisco area in the 1980s. The whole novel is written in Alexandrain quartet sonnets which takes some getting used to, but acts as champagne on the brain!
LibraryThing member charl08
I just finished this amazing book today. I loved his verse, especially the digressions as a writer at certain points (the censor of his love scenes, discussing the nature of love..). His poetry is wonderful and I thought some of the sonnets could have stood up alone as individual poems in
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collections or anthologies. The near end event is shocking, but the ending was sufficiently hopeful to avoid being downbeat. I thought it was interesting to read his thoughts on nuclear weapons and terrorism in the light of current events.
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LibraryThing member AlanWPowers
Poetically dazzling and admirable, this novel-poem like its model Evgeny Onegin, and Pushkin's model Don Juan, is a rare thing in English lit. It has perhaps unfortunately become classified as "gay lit" because it has a comprehensive and interesting central gay character. But it is no more "gay
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lit" than Shakespeare's sonnets are "bisexual lit."
I have myself written my own post-Pushkin novelized poem, of some 65 pages, and I am envious
of the range and wit of Seth's achievement. Unfortunately, because of the dynamics of American publishing--and because of the stupid preference of American poets and their academic sponsors for Romantic "I" verse--Seth was discouraged from producing another novel in verse. Too bad. It took Pushkin's model Byron two tries. The GG does not require improvement, or a sequel, but one wonders what it could possibly be.
By the way, I have read Pushkin in Russian, maybe one-fifth, and I have even tried translating some of his additional stanzas.
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LibraryThing member hippietrail
I really loved this book but I'm still worried about whether it's cheesey or not. Due to the verse this is the most unputdownable book I've ever read.
LibraryThing member keyoda
Wrote many books won prizes, mostly 'A Suitable Boy' Commonwealth Writers Prize.
LibraryThing member trinityofone
I got this book as a gift and was honestly a bit wary at first because the concept--a novel told entirely in sonnets!--seemed a bit hokey and pretentious to me. But in general it's really quite lovely and clever, even if the plot is a bit thin (with the exception of one incredibly shocking moment
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toward the end). Plus, Seth captures the feel of the Bay Area really well. You were right, dear gift-giver!
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LibraryThing member atheist_goat
A stunt book, and the story suffered immensely by coming second to the stunt (the entire thing is written in sonnets), but I loved reading it. The rhythm was intoxicating.
LibraryThing member rdaneel
A novel in verse about five people in San Francisco in the 80's. I absolutely loved it. He is wonderful with language (using words like 'ununanimous'), and quite insightful about human nature. There is even a sonnet about Tintin and Asterix.
LibraryThing member amelish
I was so disappointed with the ending of this novel in verse (yes, verse). The best part, I thought, came right before the plot takes a tragic turn, when two people begin to quietly and casually fall back into love under the guise of friendship. It felt like a healing of wounds that were then torn
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open again by what comes next. I love that Seth self-deprecatingly slips in a proxy for himself in the guise of Kim Tarvesh, the befuddled and blue economics PhD.
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LibraryThing member nimatee
Beautiful book. All in prose. Poignant and funny. My first Seth.
LibraryThing member thrashbash
I usually find poetry a tad bit pretentious for my taste. But the fact that Seth acknowledges this and uses it to his advantage makes this piece not only bearable, but one of the book loves of my life. It makes me want to sing.
LibraryThing member eglinton
Gotta be one of my favourite books. Good style, rythmn and verse technique, good plotting momentum, good sense of place and culture in well-bred and -schooled California. Never loses the readers' interest, never becomes formulaic. Funny and ingenious.
LibraryThing member clstaff
An epic novel written in verse. A great postmodern story about the yuppie lifestyle of thirty something's in San Fransisco in the eighties. Vikrom Seth's is a very talented writer!
LibraryThing member Eileen47
This was brilliant. I barely remember what it was about, but the fact that he basically wrote a novel in rhyme was pretty impressive -- and that isn't to say it was just a silly exercise, either...
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
This is an early eighties story of a group of people living in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridget in San Francisco. John is a successful but lonely executive looking for some kind of love. His ex-girlfriend-turned-loyal-good-friend, Janet Hayakawa, takes pity on him and places an ad in the
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personals (a la Rupert Holmes: if you like Pina Coladas). As John goes on bland blind date after bland blind date he finds ways to avoid second encounters with each woman until he meets Liz. It's practically love at both sight for both of them...until he moves in with her and meets her cat. Competition with a pet is not easy.
Philip Weiss is also looking for love after his wife, Claire Cabot, left him and their young son, Paul. When Philip tries a different sort of love he is confronted with conflicting feelings. Morality, religion, and society's attitudes guide his choices. These are just a few of the characters in Golden Gate. As the reader, you get to delve into their work, their relationships, their responsibilities. It's all about human connections. The fact it is one giant poem is just icing on the cake. I was captivated until the (surprising) end.
It took Vikram thirteen months to finish The Golden Gate.
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LibraryThing member mstrust
In 300 pages of iambic pentameter, this is the story of John, who is desperately lonely and calls up a former girlfriend, Jan, to help him figure out how he can find love. Jan jumps right in and places an ad, then sorts through to find good matches for John, which ends with him meeting and falling
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for attorney Liz. They're very happy together, but their relationship angers Liz's old cat, Charlemagne, who takes great pleasure in destroying John's things and peeing on his pillow.
This is also the story of John's best friend, Phil. His wife left him and their young son a while ago, something they are still dealing with, but Phil finds an unexpected love in Ed, Liz's brother. Keeping their relationship hidden to their family and friends, there is also the issue of Ed's Catholic guilt, which seems to come up when Phil believes they should be at their happiest.
Remarkably fleshed out, these are characters that have hidden sides and the ability to evolve. They deal with parenthood, illness, government and corporate pollution, and religion. Yes, it's hard to read a poem this long, yet it's filled with humor.
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LibraryThing member pussreboots
Vikram Seth is best known for A Suitable Boy but seven years earlier he wrote, The Golden Gate, a novel about life in and around San Francisco, done as more than one hundred sonnets. I read the book for its location and it's unusual narrative approach.

As poetry, each sonnet stands along fine. Each
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one is a snippet, a little window into life in San Francisco from the turbulent 1970s midway through the consumer driven 1980s. As a slice of Americana, the book is feeling dated. It relies too heavily on popular culture that has since moved in other directions.
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LibraryThing member HenryKrinkle
I was thinking in iambic tetrameter for weeks after reading this book. I have read this book multiple times, and it always leaves me delighted and surprised. It also always leaves me in a puddle of tears. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member ianitts
Joyous read from first line to last.
The story is funny, moving and uplifting; and the rhyming prose makes it a delight to read.
Impossible to put down, and quite fast reading.
... I found this book in a discount stack in the 90's - D'oh!
LibraryThing member ShannonRose4
Wow, what a gem of a book! A love story told in prose, what's not to love?…Everyone should have this book in their collection to read.
LibraryThing member eldang
I picked this book up from a Little Free Library, based on a vague sense that Seth was a writer people said nice things about so I might want to read it. I flicked through and saw that it was all in verse and thought there was no way this could be good. Oh, how wrong I was.

The book tells a few
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small stories, of the relationships between yuppies in the Bay Area back when home computers were a novelty and the big business were tied to the defence industry. It tells these stories with astonishing beauty; enough that I cried at the end, over the fate of a character who 150 pages earlier I'd decided I disliked and was the author of most of his misfortunes. That's a strength of the book in general: every character is deeply flawed, but the book holds them all with enough compassion that I still cared what happened to them.

And yes, it's all in verse. Sonnets. Onegin stanzas- intricate rhyming scheme and all. 14 chapters of them, the titles of which themselves make the table of contents into a sonnet that summarises the story. While there are moments at which the brilliance of the craft distracts from the story, they are very few, and the form actually serves the book very well, driving it with a pace and lightness of touch that had me read the book in a week and want to start over again immediately.
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LibraryThing member KevinRubin
When my friend at work loaned me this book I wasn't sure what to think. I didn't realize it was all in verse until after he handed it to me, then it was too late...

Starting it was tough, but it didn't take too many stanzas before I began to enjoy it.

It's a good story, following some yuppies in the
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mid-80's near San Francisco. Several of them are college friends who don't keep in close touch as work, marriage, divorce and all that stuff keeps them too busy for each other. Others they meet in the story, fall in love, out of love, struggle with love...

The verse works pretty well in most cases. I had some trouble where sentences ran partially into the next line, then things just didn't flow right, with the rhyme not really matching what was being said. A few times I had to go back and reread a few lines to get away from the rhyme and read what actually happened.

I liked the verse for the characters' quotes, that felt like they were speaking in poetry. Very cool, there.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book.
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