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The Fraud

by Zadie Smith

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6563134,798 (3.53)40
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 realise. 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' 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... 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.'… (more)
  1. 00
    Trust by Hernan Diaz (allthegoodbooks)
    allthegoodbooks: Similar themes - who do we believe and how do we know
  2. 00
    The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (allthegoodbooks)
    allthegoodbooks: Similar themes of truth and lies
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Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
Told in the voice of Eliza Touchet, who in the audiobook is portrayed with a Scottish accent, is the cousin, housekeeper, and sometimes lover of her cousin William Ainsworth. Ainsworth writes and rubs elbows with the likes of Dickens. Ainsworth writes floridly and does not earn enough to support his lifestyle, so throughout the book the household's finances are slowly decreased. Eliza is interested in the abolitionist movement and the rights of women. Other than that, I listened to the book because of Smith's lovely accent more than anything. I probably wouldn't have finished it had I been reading it, but it was fun to listen to. ( )
  mojomomma | Feb 20, 2024 |
Zadie Smith is among the best writers in England. This newest novel doesn't disappoint. Very creative, clever and original. I took away one star because it's simply too long. ( )
  vunderbar | Feb 18, 2024 |
I didn't get very far into this before I gave up. The story jumps around in time a lot, and doesn't give you much guidance in navigating the timeline, so it can be confusing. The main characters are all either really obnoxious, or poorly developed.
  Gwendydd | Feb 18, 2024 |
This well-constructed, imaginative book has multiple themes: truth v fraud, the literary world in 19th century particulary its pretentious literary scene, class struggle in England, slavery and abolition, and the nascent feminism in mid and late 19th century England. Like good historical novels, to me anyway, it gives a foretaste of matters that evolved to our own time.

Eliza Touchet (pronounced as in French) is a widow and cousin by marriage to William Ainsworth and his wife Francis. Having little money left from her wayward late husband, she becomes housekeeper and confidant to the Ainsworth family. Ainsworth is an author who churns out dozens of novels, most of them, in Eliza's opinion, awful. He shamelessly steals ideas from other creators, resulting in recriminations that he mostly blows off. He has authored one, however, that outsold "Oliver Twist". Ainsworth is flighty, often absent abroad to collect characters and ideas for his novels. Eliza is intelligent and liberated in the sub rosa way for the era. She has great affection for Frances, even engaging sexually with her while Ainsworth is absent. In their younger years, she also had episodic sexual liaisons with Ainsworth. Frances dies, and, much later, Ainsworth marries Sarah, the household maid, a woman of much lower class, whom he impregnated. Ainsworth has frequent literary soirees with notable writers such as Dickens and Thackery. Eliza organizes these events and participates, seemingly valued for her cleverness and wit. Eliza knows that Dicken's literary prowess far out shines Ainsworth's, but she disdains him, feeling that he is "vampiric" in his absorption of the characteristic's of people observes as grist for his literary mill.

Eliza yearns independence, but when she comes into additional inheritance, she declines to access it, and later gives it over to young girls said to be the grandchildren on her husband's side.

Eliza is following, along with thousands of Britons, the trial of a man who claims to be the long-lost heir to a sizable fortune. Sir Roger Tichbourne was lost at sea, but a butcher from Australia claims to be Sir Roger, having been rescued and deposited in New South Wales. The claimant has not the slightest resembalance to the lost heir -- no physical similarity, lacking the French of Tichbourne's first language, missing a tatoo that all recall, and in his language and deportment clearly of the working class. He is, in fact, Arthur Orton, an obsese uneducated butcher. His case has galvanized the English working class who, despire all the contrary evidence, are fervantly supporting Orton's claim, even contributing significantly financially. It seems obvious that Orton represents the oppressed working class who are angry about the elitism of the aristocracy. There are many references in the novel to class discord going back decades. His claims, even though outrageous, are the occasion to poke the upper classes in the eye. After two trials, said to be the longest in British history, Orton is convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison.

Eliza and Sarah follow the trial closely; Sarah a strong believer, Eliza not at all. She is, however, fascinated by Andrew Bogle, a black man who accompanied Orton from Australia, and who asserts that he is indeed Tichbourne. Eliza introduces herself to Bogle and persuades him to tell her his life story. Bogle was an enslaved man who descends from a noble line in Africa. He has lived in Jamaica on a sugar plantation of the type whose cruelty stimulated the abolition movement in England. Because of his intelligence, Bogle is assigned administrative duties and travels with the overseers abroad. It is never quite clear why Bogle so supports Orton's claim. In Eliza's view, Bogle is an honest man without schemes. Eliza has the notion that she can base Bogle's life on her own literary work.

The Ainsworth household continues to decline as his works lose any interest in the publishing world. They are forced to repeatedly move to lessor residences, ultimately ending up in dowdy digs in Brighton.

The characters in this novel are based on real persons. Ainsworth is forgotten today, but was recognized in his time, if not highly regarded. Eliza and the issues that surround her, embody major currents in her time: class conflict, abolition, the vigorous literary world, and the dawn of lessening of the partriarchy and chauvinism of the era. ( )
  stevesmits | Feb 17, 2024 |
I really enjoyed this historical novel, which was narrated by the author. It's based on real historical characters. William Harrison was a second rate author, contemporary to Dicken's. The story is mostly narrated by Eliza Touchee, who is his cousin, his housekeeper, plus more. Eliza had been involved in the abolition movement, and the story also involves the slave trade in Jamaica. The book is told in short chapters, perfect for an audio book. Lots of moral issues are raised, and none of the characters behaves admirably. ( )
  banjo123 | Feb 11, 2024 |
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Epigraph
I've seen this great city of London pulled down, and built up again - if that's anything. I've seen it grow, and grow, till it has reached its present size. You'll scarely believe me, when I tell you, that I recollect this Rookery of ours - this foul vagabond neighbourhood - an open country field, with hedges round it, and trees. And a lovely spot it was.
William Harrison Ainsworth
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For Daryl and Devorah
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A filthy boy stood on the doorstep.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 realise. 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' 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... 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.'

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