This story is a tapestry of stories and themes,woven so tightly together that it calls for reading and re-reading. It is an Historical Fiction about the early days of New York; it is a romance, it deals with African slaves, the ending of the English era and the beginning of the Dutch golden age. The characters are given great depth and understanding while the language leads you into the very streets of New York in 1746. The plot is not revealed until the very end and is impossible to unravel beforehand, keeping the reader guessing as to motivation and plans.
Richard Smith arrives in the small city of New York (“where cows can be seen at the end of the street”) He has arrived with a bank order for one thousand pounds, a huge amount of money. The locals are bemused, not knowing if he is genuine, or if the note is a fake. The only way to make sure is to wait for confirmation from the bank in London, which will take a month. Meanwhile, they do not wish to alienate a potentially wealthy man, and so invite him into their homes, and to their parties; any questioning on the townsfolk’s part result in polite digressions from Richard.
n one of the homes, Richard encounters a young woman, Tabitha, who attracts him with her bravery, daring and spirit. She has an incredibly sharp tongue, can behave outrageously at times, is heartily disliked by most of her family and friends, therefor it is surprising Richard enjoys sparing with her, and begins to understand her form of rebellion and expression. Their developing relationship weaves through the story again, leaving the reader to wonder where it will end.
One night Mr Smith decided to watch the celebrations that were being prepared for Guy Fawkes Night. He finished up in a seriously compromised position, the local butcher wanting to strangle him and throw him in the river. Luckily Septimus Oakeshott came to his rescue and they had to run from the hostile crowd. It is this chase that is featured on the front cover, edged in gold and depicting the narrow Dutch houses clumped together. The whole town was aware of the escapade next day. This emphasized to Richard the smallness of the town as compared to London. It also provided him with a true friend, as he and Septimus shared many values and ideas.
We still have a few weeks before we know if Richard is a wealthy man or a fraud and for him to avoid the questions and suggestions made to him. We know he is a scholarly man, as he is invited to take part in a play and does so with great skill and knowledge. Unfortunately the part he has been offered was originally given to Tabitha, but he was not aware of this. The feisty woman is not amused, and ignores both the play and the stars.
As a tapestry, this story has so many wonderful aspects to it. The characters are rich and alive, the language propels you into the time and street, the plot unravels slowly, with Richard, the narrator saying “I do not want to write this part of the story,” leaving us wondering. The fascination of New York in its raw and early days, and the horror of an accident keep us reading. There are glimpses of what the future holds for this era, a generation before the American Revolution. Marvelous!
|Distributor||Allen & Unwin|