Jan Morris

Made in Mannahatta

Golden Hill

By

Faber & Faber 344pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

I undertook to review this novel, Francis Spufford’s first, partly because I knew of the author’s non-fictional powers, but chiefly because the book is set against a peculiarly compelling background: the island of Manhattan in 1746, eighty-two years after it passed from Dutch to British sovereignty, and thirty-seven years before it became American.

I was right in my purpose, too. As fiction, Golden Hill is too obfuscatory for my tastes, but as a work of historical evocation it is just wonderful. The plot concerns the arrival in New York, for mysteriously ill-defined purposes, of a solitary young Briton called simply Mr Smith, and it records his tangled progress through the colonial society of the day – from the underworld to the gubernatorial, confusedly into sex and briefly into jail. This gives Spufford the opportunity to take us, too, intimately through the infant metropolis, which had a population of about seven thousand souls in those days and was more or less confined to the lower parts of Mannahatta, with outposts up at the Bouwerij and over the East River in Breuckelen.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Half-way through The Conquest of Water I felt as if I had been subjected to the literary equivalent of excessive c… ,
    • 'Volume five, then, but still no end in sight. Sandbrook is clearly enjoying himself so much he can’t bear the seri… ,
    • 'By the end of the book something so weighty, stylish and impressive has been built up that one feels far nearer to… ,
    • 'Her ensuing psychotic episode is described so convincingly ... that the reader will wonder if Dobrakovová did not… ,
    • 'The perspectives complement and contest one another, amounting to a glorious, atmospheric set of ventriloquisms.'… ,
    • RT : I reviewed The Testaments for . I will not be taking any questions at this time. ,
    • 'The Testaments is, first and foremost, a manual of resistance ... a type of resistance that is organised, articula… ,