Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Golden Hill – Frances Spufford

Golden Hill – Francis Spufford

I read somewhere (sorry I forgot where!) that this was  fabulous historical fiction, so of course I had to read it. It was suprisingly hard to find and in the end I bought it from the Kindle store.

Here is the blurb …

New York, a small town on the tip of Manhattan Island, 1746

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 hundred 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.

Set a generation before the American Revolution, it paints an irresistible picture of a New York provokingly different from its later self: but subtly shadowed by the great city to come, and already entirely a place where a young man with a fast tongue can invent himself afresh, fall in love – and find a world of trouble.

I enjoyed this novel, it was fun and well-written. I was fascinated by early New York – only 1000 people and the dutch influence. It was a rolicking ride – a bit like a short Fielding novel (and that has to be a good thing), action, romance, a duel and a secret purpose.

I think it is very accomplished and if I was more literary I would have more to write.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/01/golden-hill-by-francis-spufford-review

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/07/03/golden-hill-a-crackerjack-novel-of-old-manhattan

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Passion – Jude Morgan

Passion – Jude Morgan

As this one was lent to me, I felt compelled to read it quickly rather than letting it languish in the TBR pile. It is long – 663 pages – and slowed my reading. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it – there was just a lot of it.

Here’s the blurb …

They were the Romantic generation, famous and infamous, and in their short, extraordinary lives, they left a legacy of glamorous and often shocking legend. In PASSION the interwoven lives and vivid personalities of Byron, Shelley and Keats are explored through the eyes of the women who knew and loved them – scandalously, intensely and sometimes tragically.

From the salons of the Whig nobles and the penury and vitality of Grub Street, to the beauty and corruption of Venice and the carrion field of Waterloo, PASSION presents the Romantic generation in a new and dramatic light – actors in a stormy history that unleashed the energies of the modern world.

What I liked most about this novel was learning about the lives of the women involved with these men: Caroline Lamb, Annabella Milbanke, Augusta Leigh (Byron’s half-sister), Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont and Fanny Brawne.

I notices some sentences taken directly from Austen

Annabella Milbanke, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

Replace Annabella Milbanke with Emma Woodhouse and you have the opening paragraph of Emma. There are probably other (contemporary) authors also used, but I am not clever enough to notice them.

If you are interested in the romantic poets, then I think this book will interest you.

Another review…

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/nov/13/featuresreviews.guardianreview22

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