Vikram Seth's books include three poetry collections, a libretto, the travel memoir From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet, and the novels The Golden Gate and A Suitable Boy. Born in Calcutta, Seth has lived in China, California, England, and India.
This curious work narrates a tale of San Francisco yuppiedom in the iambic tetrameter, 14-line stanzas of Pushkin's classic ``novel in verse,'' Eugene Onegin. Seth's plot uses Pushkinesque ironic reversals of fate: WASP John misses out on love because his emotions are straitened by weapons work; Jewish Phil drops out of Silicon Valley and finds love, but his male partner, tormented by Catholic guilt, leaves him; Phil and his ex-lover's sister (John's aliented woman friend) marry. There are powerful passages (a priest's anti-nuclear speech; Phil's debate with his lover), well sketched landscapes, and beguiling asides. Often, however, the thud of clumsy stress jars the reader, and overall the work is a wordy, pedestrian imitation of Onegin 's perfect fusion of form and plot. Bay dwellers will enjoy Seth's portrait of their milieu, Pushkinists may be amused, and poets should respect Seth's ambition. Mary F. Zirin, Altadena, Cal.
While the idea of a novel in verse may be initially off-putting, readers of this tour de force are in for a treat. Using the sonnet form throughout, and varying his language from lyrical elegance to timely vernacular, Seth's tale of four California Yuppies is as fully dimensional as a good novel, and twice as diverting. In this witty, compressed style, he gives us fully delineated characters: John, a Silicon Valley executive seeking solace in a meaningful amatory relationship; his friend and ex-lover Janet, an artist and musician in a raucous rock band; Liz, a vivacious Stanford law grad whose parents produce superior California wine; her brother Ed, floundering between sin and religion; and John's pal Phil, abandoned by his wife and left with his son, his moral vision and his scientific career at Lungless Labs, a scene of antinuclear protests and rallies. It is an engaging story of the pangs and passions of love, interlaced with serious ruminations on homosexuality and religion and on the future of the earth in the atomic age; and some comic sallies on feline behavior, bumper stickers, responses to ``personals'' ads, and other facets of the contemporary scene as refracted through the California lifestyle. The bard does not hesitate to interrupt his story from time to time, to explain a change in the course of events or to comment upon the structure of his narration, as he defends himself against critics who would accuse him of folly in writing an entire novel in the sonnet form. Inspired by ``the marvelous swift meter of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin,'' Seth (From Heaven's Lake performs imaginative acrobatic jests, quips and puns, delivering his social commentary with spirit and verve. In spite of some passages where he veers toward the maudlin and bathetic,Seth's experiment is a resounding success. 25,000 first printing; author tour. (April 14)
"At once a bittersweet love story, a wickedly funny novel of
manners and an unsentimental meditation on mortality and the
nuclear abyss. Always witty--and still profound--the book paints a
truthful picture of our dreadful, comic times."
"A splendid achievement, equally convincing in its exhilaration and its sadness."
--The New York Times
"The great California novel has been written in verse (and why not?): The Golden Gate gives great joy."