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Vikram Seth: The Golden Gate

A novel in sonnets! How could he consider such a thing and how could he get away with it, yet get away with it he does. And, worse, it is about California yuppies (rhymes with puppies, as you will find out). John, Liz, Janet, Phil and Ed, the protagonists, are fairly typical Californian yuppies. John is a computer guy, Phil, a former defense worker now turned peace worker, Janet a sculptor, a drummer in the band Liquid Sheep and a cat lover, Liz an attorney, Ed a religious iguana owner. John is lonely so he calls his ex-lover Janet and she puts a personal ad in the Bay Guardian for him. After a few misses, he hooks up with Liz. They have an affair as do Liz’ brother Ed and John’s friend Phil. Things, inevitably, go wrong. But, as in Seth’s other novels, the plot is not terribly important. What makes this novel is, of course, the sheer cheek of writing it in verse and splendidly getting away with it because it works, even if you are the sort who doesn’t like poetry. Also, like his other novels, it is witty, urbane, has a whole series of wonderful set pieces – the iguana Schwarzenegger playing a key role, while Seth himself even does an Alfred Hitchcock-like walk-on – and keeps it feet firmly on the ground. It could have been sentimental and silly but Seth is far too good a writer for that to happen, even though the tender-hearted may need their hankies by the end. And yes, Virginia, it is a novel, even though it is in verse.

Publishing history

First published in 1986 by Faber