Ondaatje prize winner coming to LitFest 2017

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

Francis Spufford credit Bart Koetsier

The Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje prize was announced last night and we are thrilled that the winner, Francis Spufford, will be coming to Marlborough LitFest this year.

The Ondaatje prize is a prestigious award of £10,000 for “a distinguished work … evoking the spirit of a place” and I would absolutely agree with the judges – Francis’ debut novel Golden Hill is an incredibly evocative and beautifully written story set in New York city, 270 years ago. It’s a very different world to the New York we know now – at times harsh and uncompromising and at others convivial and cosy.

The story follows the fortunes of Richard Smith, a stranger from England, who comes to this small, parochial town (only 7,000 people lived in New York in 1746) with a banker’s draft for £1,000 – a sum so large there isn’t enough hard cash in the city to cover it. His huge potential wealth brings suspicion and solicitude in equal measure, the rich of New York welcome him cautiously but he is often caught out by the closed nature of their society and falls flat on his face on several occasions. There is a mystery which runs beneath the story which draws you on and on to the unexpected end.

Francis Spufford has previously written historical non-fiction, and you can see the amount of research and knowledge which has gone into this novel. The world of Golden Hill seemed utterly authentic to me, the smells, sounds, extreme winter cold and warm rich interiors are beautifully described. This novel also had that quality of the best historical fiction writing; human emotions we all recognise today fitted seamlessly into the language and culture of the time.

Francis Spufford will be at Marlborough LitFest on 30th September – tickets available in the summer. I can’t wait to hear him!

Kate Fry, Marlborough LitFest Committee member