Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Fraud by Zadie Smith

The Fraud
by Zadie Smith
Read by Zadie Smith
12 hours, 26 minutes
Published September 2023 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
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 title-captivates 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. . . .

My Thoughts: 
From an article in The Millions: 
"In 2009, first edition of Charles Dickens’s The Christmas Carol was sold at auction for $290,500. The book had been inscribed by Dickens himself to one “Mrs Touchet.” This Eliza Touchet was cousin by marriage to a novelist named William Harrison Ainsworth, and served as his housekeeper and as a witty hostess for literary parties at his home in Kensal Green, many of which Dickens attended. "

You know how much I love when an author, especially one of Smith's skills, manages to create a novel that ties real life people and events together in a way that really makes me think and that makes those people and events relevant to the world today. 

But that's not what drew me to this book. In fact, I had no idea what this book was about when I requested it from the library. I requested it because it was Smith's latest. This is the fourth book I've read by Smith and she always challenges me. Twice I've commented that I should have read the book in print but had listened to it. Didn't learn my lesson. While this one was easier to follow while listening than were the other books I've listened to by Smith, it does bounce around quite a bit and I think it would have been easier to track with it if I had looked at the book instead of listened to it. 

Still...I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I loved the history, I loved the references to the authors I'm familiar with and the story of the one I wasn't. I found the hoopla surrounding the trial fascinating and how timely it felt. Truly, a man who some people so passionately believed in while so many others could clearly see that he was a fraud? Can you get any more tied in to current events? Eliza was such an interesting character, as was her relationship with the Bogles. 

I've always found plenty to like about Smith's books but this one might be my favorite yet. 

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