The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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November 12, 2016

Golden Hill

This was a romp, a pleasure in unexpected ways, and one of those books that I didn't think I'd be able to find and then happily did.  On the surface, it's historical fiction, and a mystery:  an affable young Englishman, Richard Smith, arrives in New York in 1746, with a letter of credit for an unheard of amount of money, and is greeted with suspicion by Mr. Lovell, the New York banker he calls upon. Smith agrees that he must wait sixty days for his story to be verified; in the meantime, he makes wary friends with Septimus Oakeshott and Henrik van Loon, two rising young men in the city, and becomes enamored and disgusted with Tabitha Lovell, the banker's unconventional prickly, difficult daughter, so there's also a romance. {There's also the small matter of escaping over the rooftops from a gang of thugs, threatened with hanging, and being challenged to a duel ... } There's an overhanging question of whether Smith is who he says he is, and hints that he is not, and the revelation that he has a secret purpose in coming to New York, and so hangs the plot.

I think I noted this book {whenever it was that I first heard about it :)} because of its setting and my growing enjoyment of historical fiction, but for me it's not about these or the unfolding story. On every page, in almost every sentence, the writing is so lush, so descriptive, so wordy, so quirky, that I found myself just reveling in it {and not minding overly much when the story flagged a little, as it sometimes did ...} It gave a real sense of what the colonial city would have been like, and gave us very well-drawn characters.  I'm glad I found this book, and didn't pass it over as being not my usual thing.

Golden Hill, by Francis Spufford
Faber & Faber, 2016
Borrowed from the Boston Athenaeum

1 comment:

Mary Ronan Drew said...

I've loved Spufford since The Child that Books Built. This book has just arrived and I'm really pleased to read how much you liked it. Maybe I'll begin reading it today.

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