Published in July 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Francis Spufford is such a prolific and well-respected writer that it’s hard to believe that Golden Hill, his lively historical novel set in 18th-century New York, is his first work of fiction. Spufford is best known for his admirable career in non-fiction, including as the writer of the punchy and pithy Unapologetic, a very modern defence of Christianity, and I May Be Some Time, a cultural history of man’s relationship with the ice caps. How does such an expert in argument and history deal with adding the imaginary into the mix?
Golden Hill is a story of New York in 1746, a generation before the American Revolution. A certain Mr Smith arrives in town with a money order for £1,000, a huge amount, and won’t explain anything about it. What follows is a story that wreaths itself entirely in the style of an original 18th-century novel, from the vocabulary choices to the outrageous plot, which puts the hero through a variety of compromising positions.