Golden Hill by Francis Spufford review: ‘truth is a story’

Portrayal of false imprisonment and fake testimony reflect today’s post-truth world where greed continues to speak to power

Tue, Jan 31, 2017, 12:36

   
 

Book Title:
Golden Hill

ISBN-13:
978-0571225200

Author:
Francis Spufford

Publisher:
Faber & Faber

Guideline Price:
£8.99

A man with hidden motives and a secret past, Smith leaves London for the nascent city of New York in 1746, where he falls from fortune into debt, strife and love.

Spufford’s prose luxuriates in 18th-century language and setting – the polite dissemble of corrupt society, the vocabulary of grimy lusts, the sly rhetoric of politics – with fluid expertise. We’re transported to the 1700s, but the novel’s portrayal of Smith’s false imprisonment and fake testimony reflect today’s post-truth world where greed continues to speak to power.

Liberty and equality are central to Golden Hill, winner of the Costa First Novel Award: it’s an ingenious intersectional narrative, detailing the chains around women, slaves and the poor. History, it proposes, is narrative, conjecture and fantasy; time, history’s birthing pool, does not heal or clarify but clouds the waters of memory. The book’s conclusion, in a dazzling twist which forces the reader to re-evaluate the novel’s universe, convinces us that “truth is a story”, and that after all, history is a matter of perspective.