Long before his novel A Suitable Boy conquered the world in the Nineties, Vikram Seth was a highly regarded poet, with his second collection, The Humble Administrator’s Garden, winning a Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1983. Only three years later did he produce his first novel, The Golden Gate, a 300-page tale of San Francisco life written entirely in sonnets. (Fortunately, it was a lot more fun than it sounds.)
More recently, the news about Seth has been dominated by the non-appearance of A Suitable Girl: a sequel that Penguin had planned to publish on the 20th anniversary of A Suitable Boy in 2013, but that’s now promised for 2016 from Weidenfeld & Nicolson after Seth reportedly had to return his million-pound Penguin advance.
His first new volume of poetry for more than 20 years provides the odd clue to why the novel has been so delayed (Weidenfeld fiction editors, look away now): “I find I simply can’t get out of bed./ I shiver and procrastinate and stare./ I’ll press the reset button in my head.// I hate my work but I am in the red.” Even so, the most striking aspect of Summer Requiem is how little Seth’s poetry has changed over the decades.