Sunday, June 25, 2017

Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York by Francis Spufford

My first year of college I took a survey course in English Lit. We read Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding, published in 1742. "Written in Imitation of the Manner of Cervantes," the book is picaresque and bawdy, a new literary form: the novel. I loved it and went on to read more Fielding, and Richardson, and Smollett.

I requested a galley of Golden Hill because I had read Francis Spufford's marvelous book I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination, which I savored for its beautiful writing and enjoyed for its subject matter. Golden Hill is Spufford's first foray into fiction.

A Novel of Old New York: Golden Hill is a 'colonial counterpart to Joseph Andrews or David Simple,' the story of a young man learning the hard way about how things operate in the New World.

Mr. Smith, our hero, undergoes a series of unfortunate incidents, including imprisonment, a duel, and a death sentence. His morals are corrupted by a lusty older woman, alienating him from his true love. He has come to New York on a secret mission, which makes him suspect. Could he be a French spy? At the end, he pulls off a venture that amazes everyone.

Spufford fully captures the spirit of the early novels by Henry Fielding. The reader is addressed by the author. There are page-long sentences. Hilarious situations abound.

Readers will marvel at how little they know about 18th c New York, then a city of 7,000 persons and still very Dutch. New Yorkers are loyal to the King of England, and Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated with riot and mayhem. Wealth is on paper, with limited paper and coin currency in circulation; each colony has its own specie, and international coin circulates. Smith participates in a staging of Addison's play Cato with its theme of liberty--George Washington's favorite play.

The end of the novel has a surprise revelation that feels more modern in sensibility but is satisfying.

Reading this novel was such fun. It may be time to revisit Fielding again.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Golden Hill
Francis Spufford
Scribner
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
$35 hardcover
ISBN: 9781501163876