Rezension: The Golden Gate, von Vikram Seth (Versroman 1986) – 6 Sterne – mit Pressestimmen

Vikram Seth erzählt den Versroman in 590 Strophen à 14 Zeilen nach dem strengen Onegin-Schema (Wikipedia; eine versgetreue englische Onegin-Übersetzung inspirierte Seth auch zu The Golden Gate). Seth reimt phantasievoll, unbekümmert und manchmal gegen gängige Ausspracheregeln – so etwa „love“ oder „above“ auf „move“, „blood“ auf „food“ oder „Keynes“ auf „brains“.

Einige Reime funktionieren nur bei falscher Betonung. Das wirkt jedoch bei Seth kaum wie eine Schwäche, sondern angesichts unbestreitbarer Sprachmacht wie augenzwinkernde Spielerei. Ähnlich, aber weniger sophisticated klingen auch Seths gedichtete Tierfabeln in Beastly Tales.

Die Reime in The Golden Gate schließen Dialoge, Briefe und Zeitungsartikel ein. Ein Satz kann am Ende einer Strophe beginnen und in der nächsten Strophe weiterlaufen.

Vikram Seth schildert junge Beruftstätige im San Francisco der Mitt-1980er Jahre, beleuchtet einige Paare, wechselt aber den Fokus mehrfach und schweift auch ins Allgemeine ab (nicht unähnlich seinem Roman Eine gute Partie/A Suitable Boy, 1993). Seth schildert Beziehungsgrübeleien in wechselnden Konstellationen, Demos und Reden der Rüstungsgegner, Bürosituationen, den Leguan Arnold Schwarzenegger, die Katzen Charlemagne, Cuff und Link, religiöse Skrupel eines Homosexuellen.

Fast verblüfft es, wie lebendig Seth Figuren, Kulissen und ganze Familien innerhalb der strengen Versform zeichnet. Auch sein Sprachwitz und sein enormer Wortschatz amüsieren. Dennoch steht die eigenwillige, altmodische Form für mich ständig im Widerstreit mit der sehr modernen, nicht uninteressanten Geschichte und ich kann nicht gleich aufmerksam die Handlung und die Sprache verfolgen. Conrad Cummings machte eine Oper daraus.

„Between cleverness and silliness “ – die Kritiker:

New York Times 1:

„The Golden Gate“ was a dazzling literary feat and became a surprise hit, touted by Gore Vidal as „the great California novel.“

New York Times 2:

A thoroughly Californian novel, peopled by unmistakably Californian characters… at first sight a verse-novel that takes in Fassbinder and Jane Fonda, bumper stickers and Gestalt groups, has the allure of the positively outlandish… Mr. Seth is witty, dexterous and imaginative; he has fashioned a medium flexible enough to accommodate the most disparate material, from a game of Scrabble to an invocation to St. Francis, without losing momentum or sinking into doggerel (well, hardly ever). Love, death, cookies from Just Desserts – the varieties of experience are well represented in “The Golden Gate.“ Equally important, the transitions between them are skillfully handled… There is some effervescent wordplay (not too much, though). And the verse is often lightly allusive… The inventiveness of the verse keeps the story going, and saves it from sentimentality. Recounted in prose, indeed, it might not be that much of a story. The characters come close to being stereotypes; stand back from them, and they start looking like the streamlined figures in advertisements. But rhythm and rhyme and imagery cast their spell, and Mr. Seth succeeds in making the idyllic moments and the sudden gusts of pathos much more credible than they would be if we encountered them in a conventional novel… Perhaps the most noteworthy technical aspect of the poem is the naturalness of the dialogue, the lifelike, spontaneous-seeming manner in which the characters talk while simultaneously satisfying the demands of rhyme-scheme and meter. Here and there “The Golden Gate“ is too cute for its own good…

  • Lesermeinung bei Amazon.com: 4,5 von 5 Sternen bei 63 Rezensionen
  • Lesermeinung bei Goodreads: 4,09 von 5 Sternen bei 3079 Bewertungen und 308 Besprechungen

London Review of Books (vergleicht mehrere Versromane):

Vikram Seth single-handedly overturns most readers’ expectations about what can, and cannot, pass as a novel. Whatever the frame of mind in which you begin it, by the end it has come to seem the most natural – and the most accessible, and easily assessable – thing in the world. One takes the poetic dexterity for granted, and begins to see its faults as a novel.

Guardian/Observer:

Innovative and original. Written in seemingly effortless light verse… The Golden Gate manages to be at once romantic, pleasantly sentimental and yet deeply satirical about the spaced-out hedonism of California’s beautiful yuppies… The Golden Gate was singled out as a remarkable tour de force and praised for its light comic touch, its parodic elegance and its speedy way with narrative. Now, a generation later, it reads like a strangely elegiac portrait of a lost world of innocence before the corruptions of the Nineties boom and the psychological devastation of 11 September.

Los Angeles Times:

Already, Gore Vidal, a writer not given to gush, has dubbed the book „the great California novel.“ Another tough-minded critic, D. J. Enright, has chalked up for its author „a technical triumph unparalleled in English.“ In Massachusetts, one book dealer has been demanding $50 for a bootlegged set of the proofs. In Manhattan literary enclaves, I’m told, pirated photocopies of the book have been circulating more busily than cocaine with Perrier on the side… Awe strikes whoever casts a glance up this mountain of technical virtuosity… a true novel, as author and publisher insist… the twists and turns of ordinary, idiomatic speech, when laid against a metrical line, give that line tremendous strength. In Seth’s strict verse, today’s small talk mingles with literary allusion–as when Jan tells John, „Choose a richer lens to see with . . . Trade in that zoom for a wide angle . . . You are the DJ of your fate.“ Even when such dialogue couldn’t really come out of a human mouth, Seth persuades us that it just might do so anyway…

Susan Sontag (Reaktion auf Raymond Mungo in der NYT):

Particular mix of wit, sagacity and rue… elegant, complex… a thrilling, subtle literary achievement

Kirkus Reviews:

A lot of work to say very little. . .yet with an undeniably admirable talent for verse inventiveness… Seth is able to keep things rolling quite nicely–just as long as you don’t think too hard about the very stupid narrative. Now and then digressions side-track it… Seth deserves all the applause he’ll get for pyrotechnics of a sideshow variety; but with neither an epic sweep to justify a dithyramb nor more than the most mundane hack’s talent for emotional complexity of character, the book seems destined to be only this season’s curio, lodged somewhere between cleverness and silliness.

Amazon.com Review:

The Golden Gate will turn the verse-fearing into admiring acolytes… there is wit, wordplay, abounding allusion, and some marvelous animals

Publishers Weekly (bei Amazon.com):

Readers of this tour de force are in for a treat… as fully dimensional as a good novel, and twice as diverting. In this witty, compressed style, he gives us fully delineated characters… In spite of some passages where he veers toward the maudlin and bathetic,Seth’s experiment is a resounding success

The New Criterion:

It isn’t poetry: it doesn’t have (or attempt to have) the requisite depth or density; it isn’t rich in metaphor or other poetic devices… Nor is The Golden Gate a great novel: there can be little doubt but that, had it been written in prose, its characters would have come across as rather insignificant, its plot as less than compelling. What this book is, however, is an extraordinarily accomplished work of narrative verse—one that has all the cardinal virtues of the genre, and has them in abundance. It’s engaging, well-paced, technically mesmerizing… a charming story, sustaining a sardonic yet sympathetic tone, and flourishing a marvelous wit… Seth, like Pushkin and Byron, never takes anything too seriously, himself least of all; on the contrary, he pokes playful fun at nearly everything available—his poem, his hero, even the conventions of verse to which he is scrupulously conforming. Like Pushkin, too, Seth is a meticulous and sensible observer of the place and time in which he has found himself: the manners, means, and mores of contemporary America fascinate him. (He is not, however, one of those writers who make a career out of listing the names of cars, television programs, or product brand names… it’s clever, elegant, and decidedly untrendy… the sweetness, wit, imagination, facility, and sheer joy of creation that shine out from every line of The Golden Gate are glorious to behold.

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