Golden Hill

A Novel of Old New York
Narrated by: Sarah Borges
Length: 10 hrs and 46 mins
4 out of 5 stars (314 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

  • Winner of the Costa First Novel Award
  • Winner of the RSL Ondaatje Prize
  • Winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize
  • Named "Novel of the Year" by the UK'S Sunday Times

The spectacular first novel from acclaimed nonfiction author Francis Spufford follows the adventures of a mysterious young man in mid-18th century Manhattan, 30 years before the American Revolution.

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 arrives at a countinghouse door on Golden Hill Street: This is Mr. Smith, amiable, charming, yet strangely determined to keep suspicion shimmering. For in his pocket, he has what seems to be an order for a thousand pounds, a huge sum, and he won't explain why, or where he comes from, or what he is 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?

Rich in language and historical perception yet compulsively listenable, Golden Hill is a story "taut with twists and turns" that "keeps you gripped until its tour-de-force conclusion" (The Times, London). Spufford paints an irresistible picture of a New York provokingly different from its later metropolitan self but 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.

©2017 Francis Spufford (P)2017 S&S Audio

Critic Reviews

“Nothing short of a masterpiece.” ( The Guardian)

What listeners say about Golden Hill

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Unexpected Pleasure or Unexpected Pain

There is only one scene in Golden Hill that takes place outside of mid-18th century New York City. Two characters take a boat trip up the Hudson to Tarrytown. Richard Smith, one of the two characters, recently arrived from England, shows consternation at the view of the cliffs of upper Manhattan, the Palisades, and of the wide expanse of the river at the Tappan Zee.

As a longtime resident of NYC, I sometimes look around me at the city of today and wonder what it was like before it was built up. Just like any place else, I suppose, in today's rural America -- some farms and a lot of woods, which you could not foresee being some great metropolis of the 23rd century. But to look back from the city as it exists today to get a glimpse of what it was like when it was just another backwater is fabulous, at least when it is done this well.

One of the great things about Golden Hill is that it brings that era of pre-metropolis NYC so vividly to life, a city that was really just a small town of 7,000 surrounded by rivers and forests. But that would be not enough -- in fact, the first half of the book dwells too heavily on describing the city and its social life, the novelty wearing off and the reader hoping for more. The first half is also told using English as it was spoken in those days, which is a bit of rough go.

Fortunately, that's just when the actual story gets going, with the language reverting to the way we speak it today. Smith has come to New York with a boatload of money but refuses to tell anyone what he plans to do with it, or anything about himself. So naturally everyone focuses all their attention on him, some because they hope to benefit from his wealth, some because they hope to undermine him.

In the end, two great secrets are revealed which bring the story together. I am not going to even hint at what those secrets might be. Suffice it to say that those secrets are revealed, and that should be enough to keep you going until the end.

Unfortunately, a number of other reviewers do not agree -- this is clearly a love it or hate it book. I usually attribute that to expectations, and such is the case here -- but what I mean is the opposite of the usual sense of unrealistic expectations being dashed. I believe that if you realistically know what to expect or not expect, you will not be disappointed.

One thing you should not expect, despite the story being set just a few decades before the American Revolution, is anything even remotely related to the upcoming revolution. Nor for that matter is there anything at all about the other colonies, nor anything about any of the well known figures of the day (i.e. the founding fathers) other than a handful of lesser known New Yorkers (e.g. Clinton and Delancey).

You should expect to learn the reason why a woman narrates a book written by a man that is mostly about a man. You should expect a comedy of manners about New York society, some drama and action derived from the colonial nature of the city during that era, and an ultimate reveal that you will not see coming. Give it a shot, never mind the bad reviews.

13 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

The narrator of this book, Ms. Borges, ruins it.

This narrator's poor rhythm, uneven intonation and mispronunciation makes the story virtually impossible to decipher, let alone follow or enjoy. After three attempts and then hearing the word hyperbole pronounced "hyper bowl"...I angrily quit trying. ggggrrr...I want my credit back!

15 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

SIMON & SCHUSTER SHOULD BE EMBARRASSED

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

No one. The production was horrible The narrator couldn't keep her accents straight, using two different ones for the same character, she spoke way too fast as to be incomprehensible, and why use a female narrator when the vast majority of the characters are male? I think S&S was in a hurry and threw this together at the last minute.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Golden Hill?

The book is lovely but the only thing memorable about the audio was turning it off.

Would you be willing to try another one of Sarah Borges’s performances?

Yes. It's not her fault. The producer should be fired.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Anger at the producer and the publisher.

Any additional comments?

This is a terrific book and to have the audio be so awful is a real shame. The author and the narrator deserved better.

17 people found this helpful

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So Much Potential But A Failure Of Execution

To me, the raves and accolades heaped upon this title really had my interest and expectations on high alert. But, I'm sorry to say, I started, paused and restarted several times hoping that it was me with the problem not the book. Then, I ran into a friend who had just finished the reading, and we found we were of the same unhappy mind. Since this encounter I've read some of the reviews here that further back up our joint opinion and I am giving up.

If I start with what I liked about the book--the deep dark sense of atmosphere Spufford created with the descriptions of life in Old New York--I'm afraid it leads directly to what I disliked. The problem for me was that the writing seemed to be all atmosphere and not enough storytelling. The plot wandered, sputtered and trailed off on multiple tangents and dead ends that fizzled. So much time was spent painting the picture or, really, setting the scene that the action couldn't or, truly, in this case didn't keep up. Anticlimactic probably says it best.

Borges' narration started out strong and then became increasingly halting and breathy with troublesome mispronunciations.

Disappointing and completely not for me.

22 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Great story, but . . .

This was a tantalizing story built around a secret and an intriguing personality. I love unexpectedness in a novel, and it is here in abundance. The tone shifts, pleasingly to me, from the brittle (plenty of drawing room repartee) to the deadly serious (sorrow, regret, fear, desire). These are matched very well to a vigorous plot that hurtles forward from one surprising event to the next. It's a fun listen.

Except: narration is unsatisfying. Too many mispronunciations and misplaced emphases. Some of the voices she attempts are simply not believable. On the whole the narration was a distraction, not an asset. Golden Hill survives and still delights--but it could have been so, so much better if read by someone more at home in the language, and perhaps with a more mature voice.

12 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Another Great Book Nearly Wrecked by Reader

I won't elaborate too much. The headline says it all. I really liked Francis Spufford's book, GOLDEN HILL, but to endure hours of the relentlessly colorless voice of limited expressive range plus the reader's droning tempo was a very large price to pay to complete this reading.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

So-so story, so-so narration

I had a hard time connecting with any of the characters, and found the conceit of hiding Smith's identity and mission throughout the book annoying rather than intriguing. And I agree with other reviewers who found the narration weak and the editing sloppy - there were a lot of mispronunciations, and I found the dialogue overly dramatic, at the expense of clarity. For example, I played Septimus's final words over and over again, and never could understand them. Overall, I think the book might have been a better read than listen.

4 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

started great, but fizzled out

this was not the breakthrough book I was led to believe. and the sex scenes were way too much for my tastes.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Food, Fruit and Anti-Feminism


This is a well-done, enjoyable novel which is creative in a way I cannot disclose without spoiling it. Some might find it gimmicky. I liked its tribute by similarities to the English novels of the late 18th century.

I was struck by the below passage and started thinking how females have been subtly and not so subtly denigrated, demeaned and objectified by repeated (and mostly accepted) comparisons to fruits and foods--as well as foliage, geography. Yes.... I am male so I don't know first hand how gender discrimination and prejudice feels. But I have two 18-year-old daughters so I think I'm of a right to be offended.

Passage:
'How hard it is to describe a desirable woman without running into geography or the barnyard or the resources of the fruit bowl, as if flesh itself, bare vulnerable flesh out of flesh were not enough, considered merely as itself, as if we could not account for its power without fetching away into similes.' [narrator is despairing in describing a voluptuous older married woman with large breasts who repeatedly makes passes at our young hero).

While many of the terms are used endearingly by loved ones and suitors, sometimes they can be employed by even these friendlies--and, for that matter, by other women--to demean a girl or woman, her intelligence, her abilities and accomplishments, her opinions and so on.

Below is a list of some of what I found, limiting myself mostly to the food, fruit and foliage categories of cuts and cuddlies, and not listing those also used for men, such as honey, dish, baby cakes, sweetie (pie). I won't list similar euphemisms for men though I will point out that it is tiny in comparison.

cheesecake
cookie
crumpet
baby cake(s)
bunny cake(s)
cupcake
poundcake
pumpkin
tart
angel cake, angel food
brown sugar
bun in the oven
chocolate bunny
cinnamon girl
cream puff
croissant
dumpling
gum drop
hot chocolate
hot tamale
hot tomato
jam
jelly
juicy
kumquat
lollipop
love muffin
meringue
morsel
muffin
apples, cantaloupes, casabas, grapefruits, lemons, mangoes, melons;
cherries, raspberries, strawberries;
pancake
peach(es)
pear-shaped
pudding
sugar pie, sugar-pie-honey-bun, sugar plum, sugar britches, sugar dumpling, sugar lips;
sweet potato pie, sweet thing, sweet meat, sweet chocolate;
tootsie roll

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Time Travel

If you could sum up Golden Hill in three words, what would they be?

Entertaining, engaging, informative

What was one of the most memorable moments of Golden Hill?

An unexpected bedroom scene in very old New York

What about Sarah Borges’s performance did you like?

Believable dialogue among many characters

If you could rename Golden Hill, what would you call it?

Below Fourteenth Street

Any additional comments?

If only early-American history were always taught this way.

1 person found this helpful