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Golden Hill, by Frances Spufford.

June 2, 2017


Golden Hill, by Frances Spufford.  Simon and Schuster, June 2017. Forthcoming.

5 stars

An original and enjoyable novel about the adventures of a bright young Englishman who came to the village of New York in 1746 with a secret mission of his own.

Frances Spufford has published several, well-recieved nonfiction books. Golden Hill is his first novel.  His writing is unique, and I found his book delightful.  Golden Hill is original in plot and in language. I urge others to read it.

In true eighteenth century fashion, Spufford tells the story of Richard Smith who arrives in New York with a bill of exchange for one thousand pounds.  Because the amount is so large, the merchant to whom he presents the bill demands proof of its validity.  Mr. Smith stays in the town for the next six months and stumbles into a series of dangerous adventures.   Because New York is still small with only about seven thousands residents,  he encounters a variety of individuals.

As a totally unknown, but potentially wealthy stranger, Smith is courted by different political factions, makes friends and enemies, and falls tentatively in love.  He is not a bad individual, but perhaps a careless and trouble-making one.  His narrative is full of suspense and surprises.  Readers and eighteenth-century New Yorkers are not told of his identity and goal until the final pages of the book.

Much of the charm of Golden Hill is Spufford’s well-crafted writing.  While he never tries to mimic eighteenth-century style, his language is rather formal and precise, reflecting the world he creates.  Details abound, but never slow down the narrative.  We are treated to a snowfall in New York, the cliffs of the Hudson, and the miserable conditions in the city’s jail, with language which always draws us into the scenes.  When a mob of angry citizens took off after Mr. Smith, we take part in one of most exciting chase scenes I have ever found in a book. In addition, Spufford skillfully describes the characters in the story, often with sly humor about the ridiculousness of the human condition. His historical knowledge is deep and in accord with recent scholarship.

Do read this book.

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