Zadie Smith brings us a clever, funny and convincing Victorian novel. Or is this a wolf in sheeps clothing? This book can be read on many levels, one at face value and two as a socio-political critique of human behavior that remains essentially unchanged in 200 years.
Zadie Smith sets her cast against the backdrop of the historical true incident of the 'Tichborne Trial' that divided Victorian England in the same way media polarises us today. We view events through the lens of Mrs Touchet, a wise wonderful young widower of lively literary mind and an interest in values about class and justice who finds herself living on the charity of her novelist cousin and lover William Ainsworth.
Ainsworth was a contemporary of Dickens and Thackery and himself a novelist of popular (dreadful) historical romances he adapts from archival material. There is much hilarity in this narrative thread. The other character of note is Andrew Bogle raised as a slave on the Hope Plantation in Jamaica and key trial witness in the Tichbourne. Mrs Touchet is drawn to Bogle, being herself in conflict as a recipient of monies derived from sugar plantations.
This is a social novel, and very Dikensian in its form. In these historical instances where the privileged take advantage of the down-trodden, and individuals themselves succumb to deception more readily than they think we see our modern era. Drawing from real-life occurrences, The Fraud is a brilliant book about how uncovering the truth can be an intricate undertaking in a world of duplicity and delusion. Read it as a historical fiction and then some.
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 fa ades, 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.