Published by Vintage
Bought @ English Book Store, Sector 17, Chandigarh
If I were talented enough, I would write this in verse. Alas, I am not. Vikram Seth is. He chose to write a whole novel in iambic pentameter quite in the manner of Edmund Spenser and Pushkin. A novel has to succeed in two ways. One - the content should be good enough to grip the reader. Two- the style should be good enough to charm the reader. Seth scores on both counts.
The story is a very modern, a very American, a very eighties story of four friends, John, Paul, Liz and Jan. John Brown is a square IT engineer, workaholic, rather unscrupulous young man in search of a mate. Jan is his current best friend, ex-girlfriend, a sculptor and a musician who lives a solitary life with her two cats - cuff and link. Jan helps John find Liz through the Personals column in the paper. Liz is a rare combination of beauty and brains, the girl is a lawyer and goaded by her mother, is looking for a mate too. Liz and John get along like the house on fire, and start contemplating a future together. Paul is John's college friend, an activist and a sensitive, thinking man. He has recently been divorced and is a single father. The story brings the four friends together and changes their lives forever.
Like I said, the story is very 80s. It was a time when the term 'politically correct' was in vogue. Unlike the preceding decades, no one raised an eyebrow if a hero was a gay or a bisexual. In fact the novel also has a description of a homosexual love affair, the first I ever read about. Will and Grace came a whole decade later. It was uber-cool then, to be committed to some cause. In the novel, Paul is against big corporations because they promote nuclear war-fare, and also left his lucrative job because of that. Environmental issues and animal rights are deemed important topics. Although all the leading characters are strong independent people, Liz gets married and has a child to please her mother who yearns for a grandchild. So there is and endearing bit about loving and caring for your parents in there.
Apart from the leading cast, there are a number of other endearing and real characters in the book, that add to the landscape and make the book sound cheery.
Now for the style. Seth has a vast vocabulary in English and he knows how to use it well. Very handy when you are trying to rhyme words and make sense at the same time. Never ever does the rhyme ever sound laboured! The words trip off easily, readily describing the serious along with the cheesy. There are some amazing alliterations here (examples later). The verse sounds so effortless, that you scarcely notice that it is a novel in verse.
Whether it is love between Liz and John that is being described, a scene that lends itself naturally to poetry, or whether it is a peacenik march that is being described, a scene that does not lend itself naturally to poetry, the effect is always pleasing. I think that is the true success of this novel in verse.