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The Fraud by Zadie Smith audiobook review – exuberant and funny

The Fraud by Zadie Smith audiobook review – exuberant and funny

Zadie Smith’s sixth novel is set in 1870s Kilburn, home to William Ainsworth, a real-life novelist of questionable talent, and his Scottish cousin and housekeeper Eliza Touchet. The Fraud moves between Eliza’s time as a young widow, when, on moving in with the Ainsworths, she falls for William’s first wife, Frances, and her later years spent looking down her nose at Sarah, the second Mrs Ainsworth, and obsessing over a court case that gripped Victorian London.

The case is that of the “Tichborne claimant”, a butcher from Wapping who professed to be the lost heir to a Hampshire estate, claiming his inheritance after being shipwrecked on a boat bound for Jamaica. Many thought the claimant an impostor, though he had a defender in Andrew Bogle, an elderly ex-slave from Jamaica who had worked on the family plantation.

Smith is the book’s narrator: while her Scottish accent could do with some fine tuning, her reading is nonetheless exuberant and funny, making the most of the archly withering prose (reflecting on Ainsworth’s writing process, Eliza notes how he “always appeared satisfied with every line”). The book goes on to follow Eliza as she attends the court proceedings with Sarah, and becomes transfixed by the figure of Bogle, whose stories of empire and the sugar trade help her to see the world anew. “A person is a bottomless thing,” she thinks as she watches him give evidence, simultaneously exposing her shallowness and her thirst to learn about life beyond her narrow milieu. The “fraud” in the title doesn’t only refer to the claimant, but the stories people tell themselves to justify their good fortune.

Available via Penguin Audio, 12hr 26min

Further listening

The Bee Sting
Paul Murray, Penguin Audio, 26hr 10min
Heather O’Sullivan, Barry Fitzgerald and Beau Holland are among the cast of narrators reading this Booker-shortlisted tale of an Irish family in financial crisis.

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Because I Don’t Know What You Mean and What You Don’t
Josie Long, Canongate, 5hr 31min
The comedian and presenter Josie Long narrates her short-story collection, featuring two teens who believe they are witches, a time-travelling mother-to-be and an imploding community WhatsApp group.

Source: theguardian.com