Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York

New York City. It’s a place where our heroes and heroines of literature go to reinvent themselves. They strike it rich or find themselves desolate. They seek fame or become part of the multitudes of anonymous men in gray flannel suits. New York City can easily play this part. It is a cultural and economic powerhouse and America’s largest city. As Fitzgerald says, the city has “all the mystery and the beauty in the world."

Francis Spufford shows us a different New York in his new novel, Golden Hill. Spufford’s hero, Richard Smith, a young, educated Londoner, arrives needing to play the stranger, keeping who he is and why he is there very much to himself. Perhaps an easier task in the New York of today, but in 1746, New York is a “city” of 7,000 residents and this mysteriousness leads to several misunderstandings, bringing him undesired notoriety and attention. Everyone knows that he is there and they are determined to find out what he is about.

This quest to learn more goes for the reader as well. Spufford frames the story with the very familiar unreliable, tongue-in-cheek narrator from 18th-Century novels who reveals Smith’s origins and his mission purposefully. However, we do get access to Smith’s thoughts and feelings, allowing us to like and trust him, when the people of New York do not.

I am not doing justice to this book. It is funny and exciting. It is well-written with a great sense of character and a great sense of place. There is adventure, romance, and mystery. And it does not shy away from the dark issues of pre-revolutionary America, including religion, slavery, and the infighting of colonial government. Golden Hill is a great story. Put it on hold today—you’ll be a happy reader.

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