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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Review: The Golden Gate

The Golden Gate is a novel in verse. That means each paragraph is written in the form of a sonnet, including the author's bio and the introduction. This is a pretty impressive feat by itself, though there are times when you could sense that the poet would choose to twist the characters or places around to fit the rhyme. For instance:
Not speaking, with a finger tracing
The unseen lines from star to star.
Liz turns. They kiss. They kiss, they are
Caught in a panic of embracing.
They cannot hold each other tight
Enough against the chill of night.
If you read this out loud, it doesn't work as verse: the line breaks and sentence structure works against the rhyme and rhythm. The entire book is full of such false poetry, which fail to work when read out loud. If you want brilliant writing, The Things They Carried is full of examples of how well-written prose outperforms workaday poetry, especially when compared against The Golden Gate, despite the harsh and unpleasant nature of Tim O'Brien's stories.

Unfortunately, neither the characters nor the plot rescues the novel. Ultimately, I feel that The Golden Gate is a lot like El Mariachi: the question isn't whether El Mariachi was a great movie, it's that a watchable $7000 movie could even be made at all! Similarly, I feel like The Golden Gate is an extreme test of whether a modern audience can tolerate poetry long enough to tell a story. The story is cliche and quite uninteresting, but that it can be done at all is impressive.

The only saving grace of the book is that even the author could not sustain the writing of such doggerel --- for poetry, it's a relatively quick read, and fortunately, just as easily forgettable. Not recommended.


rif said...

Have you read "Sharp Teeth" by Toby Barlow? It's another poetry novel, about werewolves in Los Angeles. I quite liked it.

Piaw Na said...

I think I'll wait a bit before I tackle another novel in verse. This one was just too badly written for me to consider reading another one right away.

ChiaLea said...

Cyrano de Bergerac is excellent, though I'd stick to reading/watching it in French. I have not, unfortunately, seen a decent English translation.

Piaw Na said...

I was impressed by the Anthony Burgess translation of Cyrano de Bergerac. Don't know how it compares to the original though. Plays are different than novels. Plays have always been designed to be memorized, so rhyme and rhythm makes sense.

bawa said...

The only two books you Can read by Vikram Seth are "From Heaven Lake" about his overland journey back to India after 2 years in studying in China in the early 80s and "A Suitable Boy". Avoid "An Equal Music", brilliant idea from a musical point of view but a cliched, even crap plot and characters.

Piaw Na said...

Good to know!