He moves his hand across the space
What terrifying miles, -
His courage, touches Philip's face
And feels him tense up and go rigid.
'I'm sorry,' Ed says, in a frigid,
Half choking voice, 'I thought you
I didn't mean - I mean - good
Taut with a cataleptic tension
They lie, unspeaking. Phil thinks,
Be so uptight. He's a great guy.
I've never bothered with convention
God] It's a year that I've been
chaste. . ,'
And puts his arms around Ed's waist.
(The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth)
I stumbled out of an inspirational couple of days working on sonnets in Stratford and straight into their modern counterpart. My husband greeted me at the stage door - listen to this - and read a sonnet from Vikram Seth's verse novel The Golden Gate. I couldn't underdstand a word. With as much tact as I could muster, I suggested he honoured the rhymes and the line-endings and let the meaning take care of itself. My God] It worked, and I was inspired to take up the novel before he could finish.
Here is a glimpse of two people struggling clumsily towards a possible relationship in a novel devoted to that strange and bewildering dance of those who seek love. An all-consuming quest for most of us, irrespective of our sexuality, and perhaps because of this a quest that is both funny and touching as well. Here, Ed's predicament in fighting his religious convictions mirror the dilemma faced by many a young woman on a first date where physical love tugs, but nice girls should say no. He deftly evokes the awkwardness and tension between lovers who feel alone in spite of their physical closeness, but the wit of the final rhyming couplet brings a spontaneous smile.
The elusive humour of recognition kept me happily in sonnets for another week and I have been dipping into them ever since.
Kate Buffery is playing Rosalind in the RSC's production of 'As You Like It' at the Barbican Theatre
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