Zadie Smith Takes A Legal Turn In Latest Novel

Here’s reviews and blurb

A kaleidoscopic work set against the legal trial that divided Victorian England. “Few would dare; fewer could pull it off as Smith does…Narrative delight with a vein of rapid, skimming satire.” –The Guardian



In ‘The Fraud,’ Zadie Smith seeks to ‘do absolute justice to the truth’

Zadie Smith says she would rather write a 400-page novel than sit and think about death for five minutes. “I find writing a kind of absolute avoidance, she says. “It’s what I do so that I don’t have to do things I can hardly tolerate.”

Lucky for her readers, Smith’s avoidance has yielded 400+ more pages from the award-wining author. The Fraud is a work of historical fiction centering on the real-life Victorian Era Tichborne trial – and one of the trial’s witnesses, a formerly enslaved man from Jamaica.

Growing up in England, Smith says she learned about the history of plantation slavery in America — but not about the institution in Jamaica.

Looking back at my childhood visits to Jamaica and my experience in English schools, those were two places of absolute silence on the topic, to the point which I find really embarrassing now, but also somewhat enraging,” she says.

Writing this novel helped Smith understand more about her mother’s side of the family — Smith’s mother is Black and emigrated to England from Jamaica; her late father was British and white.

But Smith adds that this was about more than her own personal history: “Of course, my interest in it comes from the fact that my ancestry is from Jamaica. But to me it is a human interest. And when I’m writing those pages, I want to do absolute justice to the truth.”

“People lived and died in pain and obscurity and under total oppression — the very least you can do is want to know it,” she says. “And that’s not a Black issue. That’s not a white issue. I don’t think in those terms. That is a human issue.”

Interview highlights

The Fraud, by Zadie Smith

Penguin Random House

On imagining the Victorian era as a time of less freedom

There’s something about that argument which is very flattering to us, right? It always assumes that there is an era that arcs towards progress, and we are the final and most perfected result of that system. And I don’t feel that. … Freedom works both ways, you know what I mean? You gain freedoms, but you also lose things that might also have been of value. …

I have a young daughter, and when I hear people speak of, “We’ve gone through so many waves of feminism, and so it should be that we’re in some kind of ideal state where a 13-year-old girl is happier than she’s ever been” — but anyone listening to this who has a 13-year-old girl: Do you find that to be true?

More at




‘A writer at the peak of her powers’ The Telegraph

Truth and fiction. Jamaica and Britain. Who gets to tell their story? Zadie Smith returns with her first historical novel.

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 façades, 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.

‘As always it is a pleasure to be in Zadie Smith’s mind, which, as time goes on, is becoming contiguous with London itself. Dickens may be dead, but Smith, thankfully, is alive’ New York Times

‘Zadie Smith’s Victorian-set masterpiece holds a mirror up to Britain . . . The Fraud is the genuine article’ Independent

‘Smith’s dazzling historical novel combines deft writing and strenuous construction in a tale of literary London and the horrors of slavery’ Guardian


  • No one understands humans better. As this novel shows, there is no better guide to people and their bottomlessness than Smith herself