Zadie Smith's "The Fraud" will transport you to Victorian colonial England, explored through a patchwork of interwoven narratives. The novel is centred around a real-life trial – one of the longest and most absurd in English legal history - of a man claiming to be heir to a large fortune. However, it is much more than a courtroom drama. The novel introduces a variety of real-life characters and explores the societal ills of the time – nepotism, pretence, false friends – as well as the broader context of slavery and other forms of colonial exploitation. The novel breathes life into many forgotten but marvellous characters and many less formidable ones and invites us to question what truth is. While exploring complex topics and breathing of intelligence, the novel feels light: devoid of boring sentences it's full of crisp and funny dialogues.
Truth and fiction. Jamaica and Britain. Who gets to tell their story? Zadie Smith returns with her first historical novel.
Kilburn, 1873. The 'Tichborne Trial' has captivated the widowed Scottish housekeeper Mrs Eliza Touchet and all of England. Readers are at odds over whether the defendant is who he claims to be - or an imposter.
Mrs Touchet is a woman of many interests: literature, justice, abolitionism, class, her novelist cousin and his wives, this life and the next. But she is also sceptical. She suspects England of being a land of façades, in which nothing is quite what it seems.
Andrew Bogle meanwhile finds himself the star witness, his future depending on telling the right story. Growing 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 realise.
Based on real historical events, The Fraud is a dazzling novel about how in a world of hypocrisy and self-deception, deciding what's true can prove a complicated task.
Praise and awards
‘It’s difficult to give any idea of how extraordinary this book is. One of the great historical novels, certainly. But has any historical novel ever combined such brilliantly researched and detailed history with such intensely imagined fiction? Or such a range of living, breathing, surprising characters with such an idiosyncratically structured narrative?’ Michael Frayn
‘As always it is a pleasure to be in Zadie Smith’s mind, which, as time goes on, is becoming contiguous with London itself. Dickens may be dead, but Smith, thankfully, is alive’ New York Times
‘Zadie Smith’s Victorian-set masterpiece holds a mirror up to Britain . . . The Fraud is the genuine article’ Independent
‘Smith’s dazzling historical novel combines deft writing and strenuous construction in a tale of literary London and the horrors of slavery’ Guardian
SHOTLISTED FOR WATERSTONES BOOK OF THE YEAR 2023
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