Who is Mr Smith? Is the question that everybody wants an answer to in GOLDEN HILL, even the reader. We even have to wait to discover that his given name is Richard. Not that you feel cheated about the withheld information, just page turningly curious to find out.
To begin at the beginning, Mr Smith arrives in colonial New York on a wet November day, he makes his way to Lovell and Company on Golden Hill Street and presents a bill of exchange for £1,000 payable in 60 days. This is an enormous sum of money and to pay it out to an unknown young man would be foolhardy. Now we sit and wait for those sixty days to pass and whilst we do the world of eighteenth century New York is brought vividly to life for us.
Mr Smith is pleased to discover that coffee houses have made it to the new world and we spend much time in them with him observing the political factions of a truly new New York. He falls in love, gets chased by a mob, escapes over rooftops, is arrested twice, fights a duel, performs in a play and we still don’t know who he is. Hints and a tiny bits of information are dropped along the way, enough for you to ponder.
All is revealed just before the end and very satisfying it is too. Golden Hill is a joyous romp through colonial New York. We see the city through the eyes of a newcomer and in doing so get immersed not only in the geography but also the politics of the place. I suspect that Golden Hill will be in Top 10 books for 2017, why not read it and see if it will make your top ten too.
DISCLAIMER: Faber and Faber sent me a review copy via NetGalley in return for an honest review, in the mean time Mr CW had bought me copy too! Thank you everybody.
GOLDEN HILL by Francis Spufford
Published by Faber and Faber
Paperback £8.99, Kindle
Three Daughters of Eve starts in an Istanbul traffic jam. Peri, a wealthy middle aged housewife is on her way to a dinner party accompanied by her grumpy teenage daughter. A drug addled thief snatches her handbag from the backseat of the car, instead of doing the sensible thing of driving on, Peri goes in pursuit of the man and bag. In the scuffle that ensues a polaroid picture of three young women and a man falls out of the handbag. Once back safely in the car the daughter asks who the people in the photo are. Now the story can begin.
We flit back and forth from Peri’s childhood and adolescence to the dinner party that she was driving too before her bag got snatched. The photo is, of course, of Peri and two friends accompanied by their professor at Oxford University. This puzzles the daughter as she had no idea her mother had been to Oxford.
Peri spent her childhood torn between an intensely religious mother and a secular father. When at last she gets to Oxford her friends are the Shirin, the outgoing Iranian and Mona the devout Muslim Egyptian or as Elif Shafak has them the sinner, the saint and the confused. They all revolve around their charismatic tutor Professor Azur. The scene is set for an interesting exploration of what it is to be a muslim and what it is to be a woman.
Three Daughters of Eve made me think about religion, politics and power. I stayed up late unable to put the book down. And yet at the end I felt a bit unsatisfied. All the ends tied up nicely, which I like, but I was left with all sorts of questions. Most of all I didn’t really really like or dislike any of the characters. I’m glad that I read the book but wish that I had known Peri better.
DISCLOSURE: I was sent an ARC by Penguin via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
THREE DAUGHTERS OF EVE by Elif Shafak
Published by Penguin