GOLDEN HILL – BOOK COMMENT

Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York
Author: Francis Spufford
Publisher: Scribner, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
Hardcover Edition: 299 pages
Source: Personal Copy

Short-listed for seven British Book Prizes, named novel of the year by The British Sunday Times and praised by many reviewers including Laura Miller of the New Yorker, this reader paid money and ordered from Amazon. The thought of seeing New York before the revolution was tempting indeed. For the first nearly 200 pages, this seemed a dubious decision.

Hardly as precise as reviews promised; long sentences and longer paragraphs, antique words and spellings, tried the patience of this reader. The descriptions of setting, altercations, and indeed everything went on for pages, or so it seemed. What kept this reader slowly turning pages, or skimming was a desire to know more about the historical context of the mid-18th century (the same era currently visually displayed on the TV series Outlander and Poldark, neither set in the US). In spite of the detail furnished by the author, I yearned for clarity.

A young man from England, one Richard Smith, arrives in New York, a town of 7000, bearing a note of exchange for the very large sum of one thousand pounds sterling. The plot thickens along with the writing. The merchant he deals with has two daughters and one Tabitha, is particularly interesting. Another thread to keep the reader dangling.

Here I will stop to recommend the review by Laura Miller from The New Yorker, July 2017. It is an exquisite piece of writing. Read it before you read this book, if you so choose, and no doubt the story will be clearer.

Enough already. From page 189 on, I raced to the finish. Finally the story captured me. It started to make sense. The ending, though not completely satisfactory was somewhat surprising and had the ring of truth. I admit, I tend to like my fiction realistic.

This author, Francis Spufford, much admired by many but new to me, is a master of mystery and plotting. He also produces beautiful prose, albeit in lengthy sentences: “It seemed to Smith that he had her (Tabitha) on the slenderest hook imaginable, made only of curiosity; like a fish-hook of ice, ready to shatter at too much force, or to melt at too much warmth; but that he might play her back all the way to safety on this hook, to the safe shore of her happiness and his own, if only he were subtle enough.”

Recommended with reservation. No doubt it is a book I would enjoy on a second reading. It seems to me that a reader must love serious reading, and historical fiction to tackle this one. This book is a challenge you may be glad you accepted.

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