Golden Hill
by Francis Spufford

“You just have to read this book,” said my friend as he passed his copy of Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill to me, carefully wrapped in a plastic bag. So, good friend that he is, I took his word for it and read the book.

I should have known better as it has won several awards — a sure sign of a weird book.

The book is set in New York in 1746. Please note that I did not say “the story.” That’s because there isn’t really a story in this book, just a set of events and incidents purported to describe life in Colonial Manhattan.

The author creates an idiomatic style for the book’s dialogue, which is difficult to understand. Making matters worse, he uses the same style for the narrative, and the total experience becomes tedious and a candidate for skimming rather than reading.

Just where was Golden Hill?

The protagonist, one Richard Smith, is introduced at the very beginning of the book (hooray) and is presented as a mysterious, wealthy Englishman set on an important mission that he refuses to describe, but that requires the financial assistance of the Lovell Banking house, located on the fictional Golden Hill Street (actually, there was supposedly an area in lower Manhattan of that name.)

Lovell’s family, including the lovely Tabitha, are well introduced, but the remaining characters appear somewhat randomly and seem to have little purpose. That, I suppose, is only natural if the novel contains no plot line or arc but is merely a collection of short stories.

By page 50 (of 299) I was wondering why I must read this book, but as a friend, I soldiered on. When the same question came up at page 150, I just sucked it up and kept on skimming. There was a salacious scene between Smith and an unattractive woman (easy to find as pages were quite rumpled), but even that wasn’t terribly interesting.

I put the book down for the last time as I finished page 299 and thought that I might take less interest in my friend’s recommendations going forward. If you can’t already tell, I don’t recommend Golden Hill.