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The Fraud

Zadie Smith


The main character in this entertaining novel is Eliza Touchet, a widow and the housekeeper of her cousin by marriage, William Ainsworth. She is an ardent abolitionist and has progressive views on women’s independence. William Ainsworth is a novelist who once sold more books than Charles Dickens, but who in later life was less successful.

Mrs Touchet becomes very interested in the trial of a man who claims to be the inheritor of an estate. The claimant is a local butcher, and only one man – a freed Jamaican slave, Andrew Bogle – testifies credibly on his behalf. Mrs Touchet becomes friends with Mr Bogle and learns from him about the grim realities of how slaves were treated in Jamaica.

The trial is based on a true, eye-catching case of fraud in the 1870s, with several characters being based on real historical figures. The main example of fraud in Smith’s first historical novel is clearly the butcher’s, but there are many other examples in the story, and it is up to the reader to decide what is true.


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