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The Golden Gate

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  4,530 ratings  ·  470 reviews
One of the most highly regarded novels of 1986, Vikram Seth's story in verse made him a literary household name in both the United States and India.

John Brown, a successful yuppie living in 1980s San Francisco meets a romantic interest in Liz, after placing a personal ad in the newspaper. From this interaction, John meets a variety of characters, each with their own values
Paperback, 307 pages
Published June 18th 1991 by Vintage (first published 1986)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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 ·  4,530 ratings  ·  470 reviews

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Completely unique book, as far as I know the only major verse novel written in English during the last 100 years. The life and loves of a bunch of 80s yuppies in Silicon Valley, told in Petrarchan sonnets. It should be a catastrophe, but in fact it's a brilliant success - funny, romantic, tragic, witty, you name it.

"To make a start more swift than weighty
Hail Muse. Dear Reader, once upon
A time, say, circa 1980,
There lived a man. His name was John..."


So I w
Lynne King
This book seemed to be the natural follow on from my recent amazing couplet experience with Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock. Why you may wonder? Well for the simple reason The Golden Gate is a twentieth century novel with a unique difference in that it has been written in verse, not with couplets but with sonnets in such a way as to be an uplifting experience, be it poignant, humorous, bitter-sweet, nostalgic, tragic…You name it; every conceivable emotion has been magnificently portrayed b ...more
3 October 2013
I'm finished! Now to write some sonnets
For a review I hope you'll like.
No mean feat, so give me time on it--
It's not like riding on a bike!
Perhaps I'll post something by Sunday.
(Which means you'll have to wait 'til Monday
Or Tuesday instead, or later--
Call me King Procrastinator!)
And if you think this plan improper,
You have my sad regrets, so choose
Instead to read other reviews.
My muse, although I tried to stop her,
Demanded this. I must appease!
Now, back to that review I teased...

Feb 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Here's one of those Goodreads non-reviews in which the author uses a Great Work of Literature as a platform to talk about himself. Ready? Here goes:

When I was a high school student in Palo Alto, I used to go to Printer's Ink Bookstore Cafe on California Ave to visit my friend Gregory, who had a job slinging coffee there.

Blah blah blah, personal anecdote et cetera. The point is: there were many regulars at this place. One of them was Vikram Seth. I believe he describes the coffee bar in one of t
May 27, 2011 added it
Shelves: poetry, place
Although this novel is written in verse, the reader almost forgets that fact after a while because in all other respects, this is just like any other novel with a well paced plot, varied cast of characters, plenty of dialogue and the usual suspense about who is going to hook up with who plus some wry commentary from the author about the challenges of writing in verse.
Aug 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read A Suitable Boy years ago and loved it. Because I did, I then read An Equal Music, which I liked a lot. But knowing Seth's first novel, this one, was in verse, I put it off. If I'd remembered it, after reading its inspiration, Eugene Onegin, I may have read it sooner; but at least the mention of ASB by a non-GR friend got me to take this out of the library.

It took a little while to get into the rhythm, so to speak, but once I did, it was smooth sailing. (I was even dreaming in rhymed sente
Rajat Ubhaykar
A remarkable achievement. I didn't think anyone could pull off a novel in sonnets, but Vikram Seth has done so with distinction, grace, and a felicity with language that is as smooth and supple as it is enviable. By turns funny, contemplative, romantic and tragic, here's a classic example of a work where its self-imposed constraints only serve to enhance its beauty. Highly recommended. ...more
Mar 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I was expecting to enjoy this book, but even so it really knocked my socks off.

Total times I missed my bus stop as a result of this book and had to walk home from Bosworth and Mission: 2.

Total times I have ever missed that bus stop: 3.

That will tell you how involved I got reading this book. Seth is a charming writer. The characters were fully-fleshed-out and interesting to read about, the places were very real (as a Bay Area resident, it was very exciting to see places like the Cafe Trieste show
Mar 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cover-love, poetry
The main problem with Vikram Seth's exquisitely crafted verse novel about the personal lives of yuppies in the Bay Area of the 1980s is, well, the personal lives of yuppies. They're just not that interesting. Not even the most beautifully turned phrases, the most glowing imagery, can keep over 300 pages of rather shallow individuals and their quotidian concerns from occasionally dragging. In fact, I think Seth did this intentionally, contrasting the the elevation of the poetry with the banality ...more
The Golden Rate

“The Book of Disquiet and Infinite Jest,”
I’d reply are my favourite books when pressed.
Countless times on here, I’ve wondered,
what sets, for me, the best books asunder?
Some chess books I have given the distinction,
‘t’was amazing’—you’re just glad to read, be alive
for and award those stelliformed epaulettes, five.
But in these musings I’m focusing on fiction,
objects that contain infinite time and space—
from my past to your future, every moment and place.

Where do I start? I’ve be
James Barker

It seems a bit crazy to read a book written wholly in sonnets, although not as crazy as choosing to write one. At least that's what I thought when I stumbled on 'The Golden Gate' in a charity shop. I still felt it 10 pages in.. this wasn't going to work for me… A verse novel of the late twentieth century recording a few years in the life of yuppies in early 80s San Fran, all in soapy sonnets that range the gamete from humorous to tragic? But this work, treading the fine line between madness and
Feb 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: california, poetry
This was quite a book. Vikram Seth is known for compendious works (A Suitable Boy), and this is a 300 page novel in verse. I love novels in verse. It's always breathtaking to see it done, and this is written not only in verse, but in Petrarchian sonnets--like Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, a demanding poetic form. Even the cheeky Acknowledgements and Dedication are written in sonnets. By the time you finish the book, you will be thinking in Onegin iambic tetrameter (four beats to the line as opposed t ...more
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I've been on an emotional rollercoaster with The Golden Gate (1986) by Vikram Seth

When I discovered that this novel, my latest book group choice, was written entirely in verse my heart sank.

However, after a cursory glance at the numerous rave reviews I became more hopeful.

The Golden Gate is an incredible achievement. Vikram Seth must have laboured long and hard on creating the 590 Onegin stanzas (sonnets written in iambic tetrameter, with the rhyme scheme following the ABABCCDDEFFEGG pattern o
Sep 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Seth’s way with the “Onegin stanza” is wonderful but his characters are deathly dull. Some reviews call them “yuppies,” to which I say, If Only! Materialistic, pleasure-seeking 80s status jockeys might have made better subjects of Seth’s wit. To me John and Liz and Phil and Ed read as earnest grad students or aging academics. Ban the Bomb/Save the Whales types, whose cats are major personalities in their lives, and whose couplings are inescapably prim and donnish. This is a “campus novel,” reall ...more
Thrupthi (Trips) Reddy
Jul 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
To write a contemporary love story, intertwining the lives of 6 people that you and me can completely relate to, and delving deep into their everyday lives, struggles, loves and lamentations...and to be able to do this entirely using sonnets and poetry....simply UNBELIEVABLE! This poem/story/work of fiction is a must read for anyone that thought poerty is hard to read or too hard to understand. The simple language, yet strong prose makes this book a delightful, magical read. You'll fall in love ...more
Mattia Ravasi
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Video review

At once atonishingly virtuosistic and heartbreaking in its brutal simplicity.
A book that exhausts all superlatives. And makes a mockery of anything so paltry as a star system of ratings. Find me some other measure, some other metric to describe this—this THING! because that’s what is needed if any justice is to be done.

The Golden Gate is sui generis, a novel in a category of one. It is a brain-melting miracle, a prodigy of wit and skill, of unbelievable ambition and unending verbal invention that sprawls over 307 pages and even as you throw up your hands and get used to
Eric Hendrixson
Feb 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I reread this book every five years or so, and I always do it when nobody is around because, really, I look like an idiot when I cry in public, and the last chapter of this book does it to me every time.

This is a novel about San Francisco in the 80s, written completely in verse. The plot is fairly simple. It's a little soap opera about a few friends looking for love, success, and their places in the world. However, it's all written in what I'll call Onegin stanzas, that tetrameter sonnet form Pu
May 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
This book was fabulous - imagine an entire novel written in verse! How could you? when I started, I couldn't imagine that I would finish it. But Seth does such a fabulous job with the rhyme scheme, with choices of words, and with the story itself that I couldn't put it down. It actually worked best when my wife and I took turns reading it aloud to one another. Then you can really "hear" the poetry in it as well as enjoy the story.

Seth said that he was inspired by Eugene Onegin by Pushkin - using
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetshere
As I finished this novel in verse I was left conflicted. I loved the language, the soaring images. I did not care for the characters. Personally I was hoping a mighty wave would’ve swept all of them away. Anticipating Franzen’s rank and file, Seth gives us a half dozen achievers who universally succeed in annoying me to no end. I just didn’t care but I read to the end, enjoying the Sunday trips to the coast and the fate of an ancient pickup.
Nandakishore Mridula
This is an excellent effort - a novel entirely in sonnet format (including the chapter titles). I read this ages back, and was not very impressed. Since then I have become a fan of Seth's poetry, and I think if I read this now, it will go up by one star. ...more
I had borrowed this from the library, but I was enjoying it a lot and I wanted to own it, so I ran to the nearest bookstore to buy a personal copy before continuing to read.

A novel in verse, fully written in sonnets! But don't be intimidated. The rhyme makes it fun and lucid.
And, even if it were written in prose, the story is marvelous and an emotional hurricane. It is crazy how such modest ingredients - ordinary young characters and ordinary life events, can result into an extraordinary novel.
Oct 18, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Today I wish to review my very latest read for you
It’s a novel in verse by the inimitable Vikram Seth
About young pals-John, Liz, Janet, Ed, Phil and Sue
Set in 1980’s, it unfolds in city of ‘The Golden Gate’
When a lonely John sets out to look for an apt partner
Pressed by Janet, his ex-a sculptor and band drummer
They come across a plethora of people and situations
Find old friends, heartbreaks, odd and taboo relations
Apart from jealous cats, wines, iguana, art, revolution,
Sleights, breakups, confe
Jul 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Mar 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Anyone who can write an entire novel in sonnet form in this day and age and still weave a story that taps into the complex core of the heart and love is, simply put, amazing.
Avishek Das
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is sheer intellectual & gripping....the closet conversations are out...
Caspar Bryant
A novel in verse! wow ! And from Vikram Seth!

This is from the 80s so we're doing well there I feel the novel in verse is making its way back into something a bit like the mainstream - my feeling is this will be clearer in two or three years. Naturally we have Anne Carson doing her thing but I know there's more soon to be published which excites me it's a lovely form

Anyway nods of course to Eugene Onegin this is In Onegin stanzas (sonnets, tetrameter). I was surprised by how fluent this read ther
Jun 14, 2007 rated it liked it
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 toward the end). Plus, Seth captures the feel of the Bay Area really well. You were right, dear gift-giver! ...more
I'm so in awe of this book. It almost feels like I had to read the book twice - one verse at a time. One time to read it for the meat and once to admire the verse and rhyme scheme.

Oh Vikram Seth. You spoil us with your genius. What a brilliant plot and what a way to go about putting it out there in the world. Superb.
Esther Friedlander
Jul 07, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is the best book I’ve ever read.
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Vikram Seth is an Indian poet, novelist, travel writer, librettist, children's writer, biographer and memoirist.

During the course of his doctorate studies at Stanford, he did his field work in China and translated Hindi and Chinese poetry into English. He returned to Delhi via Xinjiang and Tibet which led to a travel narrative From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet (1983) which won

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“In life's brief game to be a winner
A man must have...oh yes, above
All else, of course, someone to love.”
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Will you be proud you were midwife
To implements exemplifying
Assaults against the heart of life?
You knew their purpose, yet you made them.
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