Tuesday, August 15, 2017

'Golden Hill' by Francis Spufford

15 August 2017

I last encountered the historical writer Francis Spufford through his excellent BBC Radio 4 mini-series about HG Wells’ ‘The War of the Worlds’, ‘Following the Martian Invasion’ (reviewed here in March 2017). Spufford brings an historian’s touch to his first novel ‘Golden Hill’, which I have just finished reading (as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Sarah Borges). ‘Golden Hill’ is a brilliant tour de force. Set in Manhattan in 1746, when New York City has a population of 7,000 and feels like a frontier town, ‘Golden Hill’ is written in the style of novels of that period – a ‘Joseph Andrews’ for the New World. As a contemporary novel written in an historical style, it reminded me of Jo Baker's 'Longbourn' (reviewed here in April 2014), 'The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’ by David Mitchell (reviewed here in August 2011) and 'The Luminaries' by Eleanor Catton (reviewed here in December 2013). ‘Golden Hill’ grips from the start as a mysterious young man arrives on a ship from London with a bill of exchange for an unbelievable amount of money. The novel is beautifully written, historically fascinating with wonderfully drawn characters and a mesmeric plot. It manages to be a very funny comic novel without reducing its protagonists to caricatures. And there is a final satisfying twist which is achieved without any damage to the believability of the story. ‘Golden Hill’ is one of the best novels I’ve read in years – very highly recommended.



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