A Novel of Old New York
A Wall Street Journal Top Ten Fiction Book of 2017 * A Washington Post Notable Fiction Book of the Year * A Seattle Times Favorite Book of 2017 * An NPR Best Book of 2017 * A Kirkus Reviews Best Historical Fiction Book of the Year * A Library Journal Top Historical Fiction Book of the Year * Winner of the Costa First Novel Award, the RSL Ondaatje Prize, and the Desmond Elliott Prize * Winner of the New York City Book Award
“Gorgeously crafted…Spufford's sprawling recreation here is pitch perfect.” —Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“A fast-paced romp that keeps its eyes on the moral conundrums of America.” —The New Yorker
“Delirious storytelling backfilled with this much intelligence is a rare and happy sight.” —The New York Times
“Golden Hill possesses a fluency and immediacy, a feast of the senses…I love this book.” —The Washington Post
The spectacular first novel from acclaimed nonfiction author Francis Spufford follows the adventures of a mysterious young man in mid-eighteenth century Manhattan, thirty years before the American Revolution.
New York, a small town on the tip of Manhattan island, 1746. One rainy evening in November, a handsome young stranger fresh off the boat arrives at a countinghouse door on Golden Hill Street: this is Mr. Smith, amiable, charming, yet strangely determined to keep suspicion shimmering. For in his pocket, he has what seems to be an order for a thousand pounds, a huge sum, and he won’t explain why, or where he comes from, or what he is 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?
Rich in language and historical perception, yet compulsively readable, Golden Hill is “a remarkable achievement—remarkable, especially, in its intelligent re-creation of the early years of what was to become America’s greatest city” (The Wall Street Journal). Spufford paints an irresistible picture of a New York provokingly different from its later metropolitan self, but 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 is “immensely pleasurable…Read it for Spufford’s brilliant storytelling, pitch-perfect ear for dialogue, and gift for re-creating a vanished time” (New York Newsday).
Spufford's first novel is set in colonial New York City, where as new arrival from London Richard Smith discovers things can get out of hand quickly, and often do. As soon as his ship docks on Allhallows 1746, Smith heads to merchant Gregory Lovell's Golden Hill home to cash a large bill of credit. Despite Smith's refusal to divulge exactly who he is or how he intends to use the money, Lovell gives him a variety of currency and coin and introduces the young man to his daughters, lovely Flora and sharp-tongued Tabitha. For two months rumors fly, as Smith exchanges flirtatious jibes with Tabitha, cautiously converses with the slave Zephyra, drinks coffee with the governor's secretary, is rescued from a Guy Fawkes Day brawl by the secretary and the slave Achilles, dines with the governor, plays whist with the chief justice, languishes in debtor's prison, performs in a stage play, gets caught trysting with the play's full-figured star, fights a duel, and stands trial for murder. On Christmas Day, Smith finally reveals his high-minded purpose for coming to America. Recounting this picaresque tale with serious undertones, Spufford adeptly captures 18th-century commercial practices and linguistic peculiarities as well as pre-Revolutionary Manhattan's cultural hodgepodge. His New York bursts with energy, danger, and potential. His ironic, sometimes bawdy sense of humor and coy storytelling may frustrate those who do not "cotton" to the "cant," but patient readers are rewarded with a feast of language, character, local color, and historical detail.
It’s a challenge to tap into the old fashioned language, but so worth it. Chock full of humor and with a brilliant surprise ending.