Review 1322: Golden Hill

Cover for Golden HillBest of Ten!
It is 1746 when a mysterious young man arrives in New York and immediately goes to Lovell & Company on Golden Hill. He presents a bill for a thousand pounds, an enormous amount of money, from a trading partner of Lovell. Although the bill looks legitimate, Lovell insists on sending back to London for confirmation of the bill’s legitimacy before paying out.

Perhaps Lovell would have felt more comfortable if Richard Smith was more forthcoming, but Smith has nothing to say about who he is or what he plans to do with the money. He is, in fact, dissembling in some way, but we don’t learn how for some time.

These are uneasy days in the colonies. The governor is not popular, and he is constantly undercut by Mr. De Lancey, who has better connections. Most of the New Yorkers are very touchy about anything that seems to threaten their liberty. Smith himself is the type of person who rubs others in the wrong way. He is also hapless. Within no time, he has been robbed of almost all his money and has to subsist on a few guineas until the bill clears. At the same time, he must present a facade of wealth to all the curious New Yorkers.

On Guy Fawkes Day, he accidentally offends a gang of laborers and is rescued by the governor’s secretary, Septimus Oakeshott. They begin an uncomfortable friendship.

Finally, Smith has the misfortune to fall in love with Tabitha Lovell, a quick-witted, quick-tempered girl who seems to hate him.

The novel is written in a humorous, sprightly style, and we don’t find out who the narrator is until the last chapter. We end up with a picaresque adventure story that has a hidden purpose, and hints of more important issues.

Golden Hill is an excellent historical novel that I read for my Walter Scott prize project. It depicts the beginnings of English New York with its solid Dutch background, hints of the coming revolution, and looks at the issue of slavery. It is entirely unpredictable and highly enjoyable.

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6 thoughts on “Review 1322: Golden Hill

  1. Helen March 5, 2019 / 2:15 pm

    I enjoyed this one too. It was very entertaining and I loved the writing style. I’ve added your link to my Walter Scott Prize page – I haven’t read any books for the prize for a while, but I’m expecting this year’s longlist and shortlist to be announced soon so that might help to motivate me. 🙂

    • whatmeread March 5, 2019 / 5:31 pm

      Oh, yeah, more! I just realized when I was updating my page that I hadn’t put in your link for Heartstone when you posted your review. It’s done now!

  2. Carmen March 5, 2019 / 8:57 pm

    I bought this one after I read Helen’s review. Now I have to find time to read it.

  3. Ruthiella March 6, 2019 / 4:09 pm

    I loved this book so much! The writing was amazing and like you I found the story completely surprising. I think that Spufford managed to craft a historical novel that was true to its time period but also thematically modern which I think it hard to pull off.

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