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Posts Tagged ‘Indian Writing in English’

I have read Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ and ‘An Equal Music’ and liked both of them very much. ‘A Suitable Boy’ was the longest book that I had ever read at the time I read it – at 1360 pages, it comfortably beat its competition which included ‘Gone with the Wind’ by Margaret Mitchell (1106 pages) and ‘Destiny’ by Sally Beauman (960 pages). I think it still is the longest I have ever read. However after reading ‘An Equal Music’, I liked it a little bit more. I have wanted to read his novel in verse ‘The Golden Gate’ since then. When the book club I am part of, decided to read ‘The Golden Gate’ this month, I was quite excited.

The Golden Gate By Vikram Seth

‘The Golden Gate’ is set in California in the middle ‘80s. It follows the lives of a five characters who are all in their middle twenties. John is working in an electronics / computer firm. He is successful in his work and is happy with his job. But he doesn’t have a life outside work. He used to date Janet but that didn’t work out, though they are still friends. So now, he is a lost soul outside his work and feels that life doesn’t seem to have any meaning. Janet offers to help him. She puts an ad in the personal section of the local paper. John gets many responses and he meets some of the women who wrote to him. One of them, Liz, is a lawyer. John hits it off with her in a big way and realizes that they are perfect together. Things move at a breakneck pace and before they realize it, John and Liz are living together. Meanwhile, John’s friend Phil, has left the technology company he was working in and organizes protests against nuclear weapons. John is not able to understand why he does that. Once, John and Liz bump into him at a concert. They invite him to a party that they are holding. Phil is divorced from his wife and has a son who lives with him. Phil goes to the party and meets Liz’ family. At some point Phil meets Ed, Liz’ brother and they fall in love. Phil and Ed enjoy the passionate evenings that they spend together, but Ed is also a staunch Christian and so feels that what he is doing is sinful. Phil and Ed have long conversations about that.

I think I will break off here. I don’t want to continue and tell you the rest of the story. I think I will recommend that you read the book for that. If I have to give you a clue, it is this – one thing leads to another, there are a few surprises in store as the love lives of Phil and Ed and John and Liz don’t go according to plan, and there is an unexpected ending.

This is the first time I have read a novel in verse. My knowledge of this style is limited, but I think Seth was probably the first modern novelist to attempt this form. It is beautiful and it works. The story is told in a collection of sonnets, and in one of the chapters Seth says that it is written in the tetrameter, in contrast to the pentameter which is more commonly used in English poetry. (Of course, this didn’t make much of a difference to me, because I can’t identify meters, but to the more discerning and sophisticated reader, this might have added richness to the reading experience.) The wordplay was beautiful and I loved reading some of my favourite sonnets from the book again. There were some places where it was obvious that Seth had overworked his thesaurus to get the right words in place so that the poem will rhyme with rhythm, but, in general, the word play was natural and was a pleasure to read. There were lines like this :

“…Don’t put things off till it’s too late.

You are the DJ of your fate.”

And this :

Work, and the syndrome of possessions

Leave little time for life’s digressions.

And this :

                            …Phil falters,

Halts in mid-utterance and alters

And this :

No matter how the poet strives

To weave with epithets and clauses

Your soundless web, he falters, pauses,

And your enchantment slips between

His hands, as if it’s never been.

And this :

This story’s time lens is retreating –

Not with intention to confuse

But rather to update the news.

And this :

“…Why condense

The happiness that floats above you

By seeding it with doubt and pain,

Crystals that force it down as rain?”

When I read this line, it made me smile J

…these days all

I do is buy books. I can’t read ‘em.

That is, as the Japanese say, the Tsundoku life 🙂 (Tsundoku = buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up unread on shelves or floors or nightstands.)

My favourite characters from the book were Phil and Charlemagne, Liz’ cat. I also liked Janet and Liz. But I have to say that most of the characters were interesting in their own way.

The story has an unexpected ending. I was disappointed with it, because I felt that the author introduced a deliberate twist to break readers’ hearts, but on thinking about it and discussing it with friends, I realize that there is a beauty to it too.

I don’t care about blurbs much, but I loved the one on Vikram Seth’s book. It went like this :

The Golden Gate doesn’t only compellingly advocate life’s pleasures; it stylishly contributes another one to them.”

I couldn’t have put it better. Whether you love poetry or you get intimidated by it, I think you will like ‘The Golden Gate’.

Have you read Vikram Seth’s ‘The Golden Gate’? What do you think about it?

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Today, I started reading ‘Narcopolis’ by Jeet Thayil (it has been shortlisted for the Booker prize this year), for book club. The first page went like this :

 

 

“Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroin of this story and since I’m the one who’s telling it and you don’t know who I am, let me say that we’ll get to the who of it but not right now, because now there’s time enough not to hurry, to light the lamp and open the window to the moon and take a moment to dream of a great and broken city, because when the day starts its business I’ll have to stop, these are night-time tales that vanish in sunlight like vampire dust – wait now, light me up so we do this right, yes, hold me steady to the lamp, hold it, hold, good, a slow pull to start with, to draw the smoke low into the lungs, yes, oh my, and another for the nostrils, and a little something sweet for the mouth, and now we can begin at the beginning with the first time at Rashid’s when I stitched the blue smoke from pipe to blood to eye to I and out into the blue world – and now you’re getting to the who of it and I can tell you that I, the I you’re imagining at this moment, a thinking someone who’s writing these words, who’s arranging time in a logical chronological sequence, someone with an overall plan, an engineer-god in the machine, well, that isn’t the I who’s telling this story, that’s the I who’s being told, thinking of my first pipe at Rashid’s, trawling my head for images, a face, a bit of music, or the sound of someone’s voice, trying to remember what it was like, the past, recall it as I would the landscape and light of a foreign country….”

 

And on and on it went – one sentence stretching on to six more pages. Who said that the long Proustian sentence was dead? It is alive and kicking! Thanks to Jeet Thayil for showing us that. Can’t wait to read the rest of the book.

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