An award-winning historical fiction, perfect for the lovers of the 18th century, American history, or simply beautiful writing.
From the official blurb:
“New York, a small town on the tip of Manhattan Island, 1746. One rainy evening, a charming and handsome young stranger fresh off the boat from England pitches up to a counting house on Golden Hill Street, with a suspicious yet compelling proposition — he has an order for a thousand pounds in his pocket that he wishes to cash. But can he be trusted? This is New York in its infancy, a place where a young man with a fast tongue can invent himself afresh, fall in love, and find a world of trouble . . .”
Now, I want to note here, that the novel isn’t quite as upbeat and Hamilton-esque as the blurb implies. This tale is smaller and darker; but then, its New York is smaller and darker, too.
I want to say outright, that I absolutely loved this book. It really is the most 18th century novel about the 18th century I’ve ever read. The language, the slang, the literary conventions of the day are meticulously reconstructed, and then masterfully translated for the 21st century reader. The result is… well, I’d have called it a page-turner, if only I didn’t want to linger on each sentence a bit more.
There is a mystery to keep you guessing until the very last chapter; there are duels (…so, yes, it is a bit Hamilton-esque after all); there are sparring lovers whose witticisms are actually witty (a rare treat in any genre). But, looming the largest of all, there is the city itself.
Francis Spufford does for the 1746 New York what Sarah Dunant did for the Renaissance Italy. The setting really comes alive under his pen. It’s full of twisty alleyways, and solid houses of the prosperous Dutch merchants, and austere Reformed churches; there is even one makeshift theatre. This last one is used to recreate the tragedy of the Roman Republic with all the silliness of the Georgian theatre, by the way. Oh, and there is a red-headed actress!
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