The Fraud by Zadie Smith

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Summary:

From acclaimed and bestselling novelist Zadie Smith, a kaleidoscopic work of historical fiction set against the legal trial that divided Victorian England, about who gets to tell their story—and who gets to be believed

It is 1873. Mrs. Eliza Touchet is the Scottish housekeeper—and cousin by marriage—of a once-famous novelist, now in decline, William Ainsworth, with whom she has lived for thirty years.

Mrs. Touchet is a woman of many interests: literature, justice, abolitionism, class, her cousin, his wives, this life and the next. But she is also sceptical. She suspects her cousin of having no talent; his successful friend, Mr. Charles Dickens, of being a bully and a moralist; and England of being a land of facades, in which nothing is quite what it seems.

Andrew Bogle, meanwhile, grew up enslaved on the Hope Plantation, Jamaica. He knows every lump of sugar comes at a human cost. That the rich deceive the poor. And that people are more easily manipulated than they realize. When Bogle finds himself in London, star witness in a celebrated case of imposture, he knows his future depends on telling the right story.

The “Tichborne Trial”—wherein a lower-class butcher from Australia claimed he was in fact the rightful heir of a sizable estate and titlecaptivates Mrs. Touchet and all of England. Is Sir Roger Tichborne really who he says he is? Or is he a fraud? Mrs. Touchet is a woman of the world. Mr. Bogle is no fool. But in a world of hypocrisy and self-deception, deciding what is real proves a complicated task. . . .

Based on real historical events, The Fraud is a dazzling novel about truth and fiction, Jamaica and Britain, fraudulence and authenticity and the mystery of “other people.

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Smith’s characteristically expansive new novel, The Fraud, works by indirection . . . Some of what The Fraud says about our own time is troubling and meant to be so. But Smith is never solemn . . . Her curiosity seems endless, she’s willing to let the past surprise her, and though the book doesn’t offer a new form of historical fiction, I would bet that it does represent a new moment in the career of Zadie Smith.” —Michael Gorra, The New York Review of Books

“Mesmerizing . . . Smith weaves Eliza’s shrewd and entertaining recollections of her life, a somber account of Bogle’s ancestry and past, brief excerpts from Ainsworth’s books, and historic trial transcripts into a seamless and stimulating mix, made all the more lively by her juxtaposing of imagination with first-and secondhand accounts and facts. The result is a triumph of historical fiction.” Publishers Weekly(starred review)

“Smith, in her most commanding novel to date, dramatizes with all-too relevant insights crucial questions of veracity and mendacity, privilege and tyranny, survival and self, trust and betrayal . . . Smith is always a must-read, and this spectacularly entertaining and resonant historical novel will have enormous appeal.”Booklist (starred review)

“The cultural and literary life of Victorian England erupts vibrantly from each page of this extraordinary novel . . . Smith wrestles contemporary themes surrounding women’s independence, racism, and class disparity from centuries-old events . . . Readers of Geraldine Brooks or Hilary Mantel will be enthralled.”Library Journal (starred review)

 

About the Author

Zadie Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW and Swing Time; as well as a novella, The Embassy of Cambodia; three collections of essays, Changing My Mind, Feel Freeand Intimations; a collection of short stories, Grand Union; and the play, The Wife of Willesden, adapted from Chaucer. She is also the editor of The Book of Other People. Zadie Smith was born in north-west London, where she still lives.

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