Book Review: Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

Name:  Golden Hill
Francis Spufford
Number of Pages:
  344 (Paperback)
29th September 2016 by Faber & Faber
Genre:  Historical


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 pitches up at a counting-house door in Golden Hill Street: this is Mr Smith, amiable, charming, yet strangely determined to keep suspicion simmering. For in his pocket, he has what seems to be an order for a thousand pounds, a huge amount, and he won’t explain why, or where he comes from, or what he can be 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?
As fast as a heist movie, as stuffed with incident as a whole shelf of conventional fiction, Golden Hill is both a novel about the 18th century, and itself a book cranked back to the novel’s 18th century beginnings, when anything could happen on the page, and usually did, and a hero was not a hero unless he ran the frequent risk of being hanged. – Goodreads

My Rating:


My Thoughts:

What a great read!

Golden Hill offers up a little of everything – mystery, comedy, tragedy, history, and the writing is amazing. Just wait for the explanation of the rules of the card game piquet, or the details of a love scene, or even the moments preceding a duel to see what I mean. Great stuff.

Richard Smith arrives in New York in 1746 with a promissory note for the astonishing sum of £1000, which naturally arouses the curiosity and suspicions of literally everyone who hears about it. This curiosity is amplified all the more as Smith will not or cannot say how he came to be in possession of such a vast amount or what he plans to do with it, which leaves New York society at large plenty of opportunity for speculation. Is he a spy? A papist? An actor? Or something else entirely?

Due to the sum being so vast, Smith has to wait for a time before he can lay hands on his cash, and meanwhile goes about daily life in New York, running up debts, encountering local gangs, falling in with politics, falling in love, oh, and also experiencing more than one visit to jail. All this whilst somehow managing to divert attention from any attempts to find out the truth about him.

The sense of mystery as to Smith’s true purpose and identity is wonderfully drawn out, and I speculated as much as the local residents as to how it would all play out and who Richard Smith was.
There are some real laugh out loud moments, and plenty of shocks and surprises along the way, especially concerning the way some characters behave.
The situations poor Smith finds himself in, through no real fault of his own, are inventive and vividly created. The adventures of November 5th will stick in my mind for a long time. Smith wants to avoid public attention yet seems to stumble from one shocking event to another without even trying.

Golden Hill is a great read, and brings to life vividly an early New York peopled with so many intriguing characters, from actresses to spy masters and of course the enigmatic Richard Smith himself.
When I first looked at this book in the shop I received such a glowing recommendation from the bookseller that I wondered what could possibly be contained within the pages. Well, now I know, and it was definitely worth finding out.


18 thoughts on “Book Review: Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

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