Booka Book Club

Golden HillWe read: Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

Synopsis:

For what soul, to whom the world is still relatively new, does not feel the sensible excitement, the faster breath and expansion of hope, where every alley may yet contain an adventure, every door be back’d by danger, or by pleasure, or by bliss?

New York, a small town on the tip of Manhattan island, 1746. Cosmopolitan, rich on the profits of mercantile ventures and overseas trading, humming with the aftermath of conspiracy and insurrection.

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.

This is Fielding’s Tom Jones recast on Broadway – when Broadway was a tree-lined avenue two hundreds yards long, with a fort at one end flying the Union Jack and a common at the other, grazed by cows. Rich in language and historical perception, yet compulsively readable, Golden Hill has a plot that twists every chapter, and a puzzle at its heart that won’t let go till the last paragraph of the last page.