Golden Hill by Francis SpuffordNew York, a small town on the tip of Manhattan Island, 1746.
One rainy evening in November, a handsome young stranger fresh off the boat pitches up at a counting-house door in Golden Hill Street: this is Mr. Smith, amiable, charming, yet strangely determined to keep suspicion simmering. For in his pocket, he has what seems to be an order for a thousand pounds, a huge amount, and he wont explain why, or where he comes from, or what he can be planning to do in the colonies that requires so much money.
Should the New York merchants trust him? Should they risk their credit and refuse to pay? Should they befriend him, seduce him, arrest him; maybe even kill him?
As fast as a heist movie, as stuffed with incident as a whole shelf of conventional fiction, Golden Hill is both a novel about the 18th century, and itself a book cranked back to the novels 18th century beginnings, when anything could happen on the page, and usually did, and a hero was not a hero unless he ran the frequent risk of being hanged.
This is Fieldings Tom Jones recast on Broadway - when Broadway was a tree-lined avenue two hundred yards long, with a fort at one end flying the Union Jack and a common at the other, grazed by cows.
Rich in language and historical perception, yet compulsively readable, Golden Hill has a plot that twists every chapter, and a puzzle at its heart that wont let go till the last paragraph of the last page.
Set a generation before the American Revolution, it paints an irresistible picture of a New York provokingly different from its later self: but subtly shadowed by the great city to come, and already entirely a place where a young man with a fast tongue can invent himself afresh, fall in love - and find a world of trouble.
Golden Hill by Francis Spufford review: ‘truth is a story’
The English writer Francis Spufford has long been a bit of a cult figure. Spufford refuses to occupy a fixed position. His new book is another pivot. I am not a terrific fan of historical novels. The weight of the bolts involved in set construction sinks nearly all of them to the lake bottom. But I read it in what felt like 10 minutes, and it left my mind feeling like it had been kissed by some sunburn.
Please refresh the page and retry. In the American tradition, but with a wholly original and inimitable English voice, Smith is an Adam in the New World, announcing himself boldly as a "new man… new-made". Golden Hill is a novel of gloriously capacious humanity, thick-woven with life in all its oddness and familiarity, a novel of such joy it leaves you beaming, and such seriousness that it asks to be read again and again. They disappear down the wooden stairs of those tall, narrow, Dutch-gabled houses "like ink down a drain", or swing up them like monkeys in a tree. Even when snoozing in elbow-chairs, they are vividly alive. C olonial New York was a city with palpable edges: cows on the common could be seen at the end of the street.
Francis Spufford's first novel, “Golden Hill,” which is set in New York in as polar exploration (the splendidly titled “I May Be Some Time: Ice and the . was published in installments, features both an anxious review of its own.
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