Tales of the City

New York – first a new novel ( his first) by Francis Spufford. Set in New York, a toe hold on the American continent in 1746. Golden Hill is a picaresque, rollicking pastiche of other eighteenth century novels, The Adventures of Roderick Random and Fanny Hill (both 1748), for example.

SpuffordMr Smith, Richard of that ilk, arrives from England with a bearer note for one thousand pounds – confirmation of the bond arriving by a later ship. This was presented at the House of Lovell, a counting house of some repute, which at the time simply did not have the requisite cash.  An advance in notes (not bank notes exactly but bonds of a sort in various currencies) were issued and Richard Smith was launched on the town.

As one might expect, adventures begin almost as soon as he walks into the accounting house and continue unabated until the thrilling twist towards the end of the novel.

New York is still a town, mostly of Dutch burghers and built accordingly of gable houses, squeezed in every now and then by a house with a distinctly London air. Golden Hill itself it the location of the Lovell house, Mr Richard Smith takes up lodgings with Mrs Lee in The Broadway, a cobbled street with trees along one side.

Having established himself there, he goes in search of sustenance in a local coffee house…

This is a truly delightful and insightful novel.

The second book ricochets from New York, London and Donegal backwards and forwards over a number of years and through its various protagonists – the principal two being Daniel Sullivan and Claudette Wells. Previous marriages have produced offspring who figure in the narrative. A typical chapter sub-heading might be Lenny, Los Angeles, 1994 or Lucas, London, 2014.

O'FarrellThis is a highly entertaining, poignant and satisfying novel. This Must Be the Place is the seventh novel by Maggie O’Farrell, she is a masterly story teller and there is much to amuse, astonish and intrigue the reader.

The very title begs the question ‘where’? This novel is about both place and situation. It is very much about points of connection – where they met, where he/she went and such like, so that revisiting those places can be both calming and sad; it is also about situations where he/she might have done/said something more or less, in a beautifully atonal set of circumstances. Like a symphony we keep revisiting painful and less painful parts of the story, the leitmotiv generally being about character defects or strengths which have rubbed awry against circumstance, or more happily made a good contact.

There is a particularly beautiful passage involving a very elderly woman who is reaching the end of life, remembering a significant meeting – one which could not be capitalised upon but which stayed precious nevertheless. This is perfection in writing:

She doesn’t know it at the time but she will think about this moment again and again, the two of them standing on the steps of the subway station…When she lies in the bedroom of her apartment with only hours to live, her daughters bickering in the kitchen, her husband in the front room, weeping or raging, her son asleep in the chair next to her, she will think of it again and will know it is perhaps for the last time. After this, she thinks, it will live only in the head of one person, and when he dies, it will be gone.

This is imagination at its very best, we are fully in the picture and can fill in all the minute and telling details for ourselves, and at the same time it also paints in another facet of the story that we have been following, another layer of meaning and perspective.

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Books, History, Travel, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Tales of the City

  1. Really looking forward to reading This Must Be The Place – I’ve read all of O’Farrell’s other books and loved them. Glad it wasn’t disappointing!

    • I look forward to reading your post on this book then, I do urge you to begin with Golden Hill though, they are a really neat fit though they came together on my pile accidentally.

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