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  • Writer's pictureLynne McConway

Book review: The Fraud by Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith's first historical novel is brilliant and thought-provoking

A photo of the front cover of The Fraud on a Kindle with a vase of lilac stock flowers

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The Fraud is set in the 1800s and is a real departure from Smith's previous books. The novel is, as you'd expect from a writer of her talent, brilliant. It's a captivating thought-provoking novel that I highly recommend.

Eliza Touchet is a Scottish woman living with her cousin-by-marriage as his housekeeper at a time when society restricts her choices both personally and professionally. Her cousin, William Ainsworth, is a novelist churning out terrible books that earn him derision. Eliza becomes enthralled, as most of Victorian Britain seems to have, by a court case called The Titchborne Claimant. Richard Titchborne, an English gentleman, had disappeared years previously but a man living in Australia claimed he was Titchborne and had a right to his inheritance.

Andrew Bogle was enslaved on a Jamaican plantation owned by the Titchborne family before being brought to England to work for the family and was a key witness at the trial.

Smith uses these interlocking stories to examine several themes, the most interesting of which for me was about freedom and every person's right to be free. I felt too that the 'fraud' of the title could be applied to many characters in the book not just the potential fraudster claiming to be Richard Titchborne,

Each character is perhaps deluding or lying to themselves or others in some way, not always through deliberate deception. I loved the tone and style of the novel with unexpected funny moments throughout. Eliza in particular is written vividly and with a real sense of her inner life. I hugely enjoyed The Fraud and am already looking forward to rereading the novel.

Thanks to NetGalley for an advance reader copy of The Fraud, available at the link below from 7 September 2023.


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