Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Golden Gate (Vikram Seth)

--The blurb--
"Written in verse, this was Vikram Seth's first novel. Set in the 1980s, in the affluence and sunshine of California's silicon valley, it is the story of twenty-somethings looking for love, pleasure and the meaning of life."

--The review--
Having first encountered Seth's work in his most recent novel, An Equal Music, some years ago, I don't know why I didn't gravitate towards his other novels and poetry in the more immediate aftermath of reading it. However, The Golden Gate, which blends Seth's skills in building the narrative arc with his manipulation of diction and poetic phraseology, seemed a perfect choice when I happed upon it while browsing the library. It is of a reasonable length - not being a hefty tome like his other two novels - and one is able to easily read it as the backdrop to a lazy Sunday or to use it as a tool of light distraction during the journey to work.

While occasionally the rhymes seem a little forced, particularly towards the beginning of the novel when one is still adapting to the style and concept of the thing, generally they are creative, sometimes amusing, and almost always eloquent: you can open any page and find a line to take your breath away with its poetic beauty. The said poetic beauty does not, however, inhibit understanding of the plot, Seth twinning lucidity and mellifluity with panache and success. The storyline is absorbing and character is built effectively, although setting is often secondary. The fact of there being just a few characters serves to make The Golden Gate even more intense; an intensity which is even further compounded by Seth's kaleidoscopic vocabulary. His consistently high register is perhaps the only thing which does not make the novel accessible: as well as being a novel in verse, which is perhaps not the most appealing format for people who do not read very much, the author has an excellent command of the English language, and, in an age where things are allegedly being dumbed down all the time, perhaps unsurprisingly wishes to express it.

These things, however, were not negatives as far as I was concerned, only allowing me to enjoy the opus even more. Seth has successfully rendered life as we know it into the style of ancient epic, and this unique combination is something that he is unlikely to repeat, lest it become hackneyed (he presumably wishes to keep his fans on their toes). Any author would be proud of it at any time in their careers, let alone as a first novel, and this staggering debut should convince anyone who has not already been sold to advance further into Seth's oeuvre.

Other works by Vikram Seth
A Suitable Boy (1993)
An Equal Music (1999)

Mappings (1980)
The Humble Administrator's Garden (1985)
All You Who Sleep Tonight (1990)
Beastly Tales (1991)
Three Chinese Poets (1992)

From Heaven Lake (1983)
Two Lives (2005)

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