...[a] splendidly entertaining and ingenious first novel ... The third-person narrative voice, in era-appropriate style, is the book’s great comic triumph ... Throughout Golden Hill, Spufford creates vivid, painterly scenes of street and salon life, yet one never feels as though a historical detail has been inserted just because he knew about it. Here is deep research worn refreshingly lightly ... The whole thing, then, is a first-class period entertainment, until at length it becomes something more serious. The comedy gives way to darker tones, and Smith’s secret is at last revealed – but the novel, most pleasingly, still has one more trick up its sleeve.
...an ebullient, freewheeling historical fiction ... Its action is so vivid that you seem to be consuming (imagine Wolf Blitzer’s voice here) breaking news. Delirious storytelling backfilled with this much intelligence is a rare and happy sight ... he’s written a high-level entertainment, filled with so much brio that it’s as if each sentence had been dusted with Bolivian marching powder and cornstarch and gently fried. Some of this swashbuckling action goes over the top, but you will probably be turning the pages too quickly to register a complaint.
... his fiction debut is a merry homage to the great novels of the 18th century, a carefully-tuned echo of Tobias Smollett and Henry Fielding ... Spufford unfolds his subsequent adventures with a fine ear for the arch language of the day, and with a very satisfying feel for sly comedy ... As faithful, even sometimes slavish, as Golden Hill is to its great template novels of centuries ago, the book has a one-two combination of twists at the very end that would have been all but unthinkable to the likes of Sterne or Smollett. These twists are pure products of cinema, not literature – but even readers who tend to fume at such gimmicks will have built up such a store of affection for this terrific novel that they'll be inclined to forgive all. With Golden Hill Spufford adds another genre to an already impressive résumé.
Smith’s purpose in New York remains obscure until the closing pages of the novel. The narrative gamble pays off — you read to find out. But it wouldn’t have worked without Smith’s seductive, near-superheroic charisma. He’s a leading man blessed with wit, sympathy and an unending capacity for trouble ... the intoxicating effect of Golden Hill is much more than an experiment in form. Spufford has created a complete world, employing his archivist skills to the great advantage of his novel ... This is a book born of patience, of knowledge accrued and distilled over decades, a style honed by practice. There are single scenes here more illuminating, more lovingly wrought, than entire books.
Golden Hill is so gorgeously crafted, so intelligent and entertaining, it makes a case for the enduring vitality of the more straightforward historical novel ... Spufford's sprawling recreation here is pitch perfect, down to single sentences that can stretch exuberantly to a page, as well as a comic narrator who directly apologizes to readers when events get too bawdy or bloody.
It is trim rather than bulky, refrains from indulging in too many antique spellings, and tells its story with crafty precision ... It is also a sort of mocking reversal of the 'innocents abroad' motif of such Henry James novels as Daisy Miller and The Portrait of a Lady, in which fresh-faced, straightforward Yanks are confounded by the perilous subtleties of Europeans ... Golden Hill is neither a shaggy-dog yarn, like Tristram Shandy, nor a bloated doorstop, like Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, for readers with scads of time on their hands. It keeps its theme—the moral conundrum of America—ever in its sights, through breakneck chase scenes and dark nights of the soul. It has the high spirits of an eighteenth-century novel, but not the ramshackle mechanics.
...[an] exhilarating first novel ... Golden Hill is an homage to the action-packed works of 18th-century masters like Sterne, Smollett and Fielding but with Spufford’s nimble fingers on fast forward, speeding along character — such characters! — and plot at a delirious pace ... Spufford has immersed himself in the 18th-century quotidian world on either side of the ocean. Golden Hill possesses a fluency and immediacy, a feast of the senses, without ever being pedantic. It is a historical novel for people who might not like them. In a year already ripe with tremendous fiction, did I mention that I love this book? I love this book.
The boisterous plot is perfectly in keeping with its mid-18th century setting ... This wonderful novel concludes with one further revelation, one that will make you reflect once again what a gloriously tricky fellow this Francis Spufford is.
...[a] magnificent debut ... Its 18th-century setting and protagonist’s picaresque exploits bring to mind the lavish yet elemental fiction of Fielding and Tobias Smollett. But like Hilary Mantel’s historical novels, Spufford’s period drama is also imbued with modern sensibilities — polished prose, well-paced storytelling, unabashed intimacy and ingenious twists and turns. The combination works wonders ... Instead of a grand plot, Spufford serves up a series of well furnished, finely realized scenes in which Smith either makes his mark or burns his bridges ... Golden Hill is a stunning evocation of a town before it boomed into a metropolis.
[Spufford] has devised an elegant plot (with an agreeable twist). He has also devised an adventure story packed with dramatic incident. But the novel is very much a literary work, too, echoing classic novelists of the 18th century, notably Fielding and Smollett. The dialogue has an 18th-century ring as well but manages to achieve a distinctive individual tone ... But Golden Hill differs from its models in one crucial respect: It is not a picaresque story of its hero’s wanderings but a taut drama ... Golden Hill is a remarkable achievement—remarkable, especially, in its intelligent re-creation of the early years of what was to become America’s greatest city.
Classic writerly wisdom holds that to make a character interesting, you give him a secret. Spufford plays this game with the reader to perfection ... Though Spufford’s language is believably old-fashioned, it doesn’t feel stuffy or obtuse. He has a great knack for descriptive writing ... The 18th-century style lends the novel a kind of faux authenticity, where we get to both play-act in the past and consider the ways in which our world and the world of our Founding Fathers differ and converge.
Recounting this picaresque tale with serious undertones, Spufford adeptly captures 18th-century commercial practices and linguistic peculiarities as well as pre-Revolutionary Manhattan’s cultural hodgepodge. His New York bursts with energy, danger, and potential. His ironic, sometimes bawdy sense of humor and coy storytelling may frustrate those who do not 'cotton' to the 'cant,' but patient readers are rewarded with a feast of language, character, local color, and historical detail.