Smartly rendered, true to its own time while also deeply reflective of ours, it’s a terrific novel, perhaps Smith’s finest ... Smith’s narrative voice...is sharp, insinuating, marked by her point of view ... A novel of sublime empathy, in which the author’s voice and perspective bestow a contemporary edge.
It offers a vast, acute panoply of London and the English countryside, and successfully locates the social controversies of an era in a handful of characters ... Touchet is the most morally intelligent character Smith has written ... The book’s structure is uneven. One wishes, for instance, that the chapters would signal their time jumps more consistently ... But these infelicities stop mattering when we are deep into the trial and the book turns into a portrait of people with thwarted ambitions, of people who, like Ainsworth, become frauds without knowing ... 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.
A Dickensian delight ... [A] brilliant new entry in Smith’s catalogue ... That the entire tapestry flows so seamlessly across decades, weaving in shared intimacies, massive crowd scenes and dusty literary gossip, is a testament to Smith’s craft ... There is, in fact, nothing musty or 'historical' about Touchet’s arch voice or the timeless parade of literary and political folly that animates the novel.
The Fraud is a lot of things: a meticulously researched work of historical fiction, a smart narrative about the importance of truth and the shortcomings of perspective, and a tale that delves deeply into authenticity and justice. It's also a very long book ... A work of historical fiction and is thus filled with real events and characters. However, Smith's knack for developing full secondary characters and her talent for descriptions and witty dialogue make some parts of this novel as entertaining as the wildest fiction. The narrative juggles serious topics ... A combination of snappy dialogue and short chapters helps keep things moving, but the big flaw of The Fraud is its length. Sure, many of the conversations are full of the brilliant wit that made Smith a household name ... It unearths stories that need to be told, and because it asks a lot of important questions in both the unearthing and the telling. This is a novel packed with great writing and shining passages that go from humorous to deeply philosophical. However, it's also a tough read that brings together three storylines and seems to lose its purpose in doing so.
Smith deftly weaves rich source material, including trial transcripts, into a lively though never straightforward narrative, making it clear why she was drawn to this Victorian-era cause célèbre ... Vivid ... Smith clearly has fun ... Compelling.
Typically dry and insightful ... Solipsistic and vain, these Ainsworths are vivid, amusing creations. While the specter of Dickens hangs over the proceedings, there’s something reminiscent of Trollope in The Fraud in how it strives to deeply blend the political and the domestic ... Along with Smith’s signature wry wit and the beautiful originality of her sentences, The Fraud’s strength lies in how it portrays Eliza’s awakening to the realities of race in 19th-century Britain ... While not an unmitigated success, The Fraud is absorbing, resonant and relevant. Grandly ambitious, it illuminates the social and political landscape of an era, though in privileging social commentary over characters and plot, it loses momentum.
The best and most poignant sections of The Fraud examine the highly prescribed space for a sharp, smart woman in a culture that has no interest in sharp, smart women, particularly a dependent one of a certain age with little money ...
As ever, Smith continually works against expectations. Although The Fraud lacks the dazzling energy of her celebrated debut, White Teeth, it excels at sleight of hand.
Characteristically expansive ... It’s certainly not a costume drama, and its rather terse dialogue has nothing faked about it ... Yet Smith isn’t really drawn to drilling away at the past from within ... This novel is softer and gentler than its predecessors, and yet more consistently ironic; I didn’t laugh aloud much, shaking my head at what she was getting away with, but it did often leave me off-balance ... But though I want everything to connect, I’m not sure that it does, not with all those many parts, however much fun they are to read. The pieces seem even less tightly bound as we approach the end; the different bits begin to fly apart, and The Fraud’s final note is a dissonant one. It’s deliberate, Smith chooses irresolution, and yet I miss the snapped-shut finales of her earlier books ... There’s a thin book inside this one that’s trying to get out, though saying that raises another issue: Would it still be Zadie Smith if there weren’t too much in it? The Fraud is the work of a writer in transition. That should only make us more curious about what she’ll do next.
Delving ... Murderously serious ... The habit of overthinking affects The Fraud ... threatens to stall out in metafictional wheel-spinning. And yet—I say this with just a touch of Smith-ian ambivalence—I think that finally the book is a great success. Certainly it’s my favorite of this writer’s novels. Ms. Smith has always been superb at conjuring voices (in this she is more like Dickens than she might prefer), and the scenes come to life in whirlwinds of dialogue ... Though The Fraud is capacious, its chapters are short, vivid and contained ... Smith has allowed herself the freedom to be brilliant, without giving equal time to the dutiful rebuttals of guilt and misgiving.
Her characters this time around...feel more like archetypes than like people. They do not come alive in the sentences ... Works perhaps better as a meta-novel, an allegory that advances ideas about the novel, than as a novel itself. It doesn’t quite offer the pleasure of sinking into the consciousness of another person, or even, despite the Victorian particulars, into the texture of a different place and time ... Smith is testing just how much the form can convey about the machinations of empire, gender, creativity, self-determination, and power—and how much the form can convey about itself. The weight of fictional ambition flattens her characters. The book seems, in moments, like a contest between Smith the novelist and Smith the critic, and the critic proves stronger.
A novel that is as much as an interrogation of storytelling as it is a story about the stories the characters tell in order to get by in Victorian London ... Has a typically complex arrangement of central characters ... The parts of The Fraud that falter are not those that unfairly lay claim to someone else’s story but those that do not plunge far enough into another life ... The Fraud does not reach deep enough into Eliza to convey her seeking and her yearning, to build up a sense of what that might be. More precisely, the book does reach, sometimes, into Eliza, but it has its fingers in so many other, separate places that it is difficult for the reader to get purchase on those depths when they come ... Smith is absolutely a great novelist, but, in The Fraud, while there is much intricately rendered surface, and a crackling, thrilling intellect working through some fascinating questions, there is not quite enough trust in what the novel might still be able to contain.
Some of...boring quality shows up in the text itself. While the subject is fascinating and offers a new light on England’s history with slavery, racism and classism, the meandering...plot and Victorian English-style prose at times makes the 450-page novel quite the slog ... Woven delicately throughout the narrative are Victorian-style sex scenes (read: brief, subtle), both between Mrs. Touchet and William Ainsworth, as well as between Mrs. Touchet and Mrs. Ainsworth.
Skillfully plotted, richly detailed ... If Eliza’s liberal outlook sometimes stretches the credulity, she nonetheless makes for an enjoyably pithy guide through mid-19th-century London ... It’s to Smith’s credit that she navigates these leaps in plot and tone without giving the reader whiplash ... As this novel shows, there is no better guide to people and their bottomlessness than Smith herself.
A novel about novels ... The irony of Smith’s career is that she has never actually excelled at constructing the kind of sympathetic, all-too-human characters she advocates for ... Their studied ordinariness makes us long for Smith’s true strength, which lies not in character but in voice. We read her because she possesses that rare and precious gift of sounding always like herself ... For any novelist, there exists a small number of historical problems that, for reasons of luck and temperament, she naturally grasps as the stuff of life. The genius lies in knowing which ones they are.
Part of the elegance of Zadie Smith’s new novel, and first historical novel, is that who the fraud is becomes increasingly complicated ... Smith has certainly not lost her comic touch ... Smith strikes me as a non-judgemental writer even though the moral convictions shine through. Compared to the fustian of some historical novels, this reads breezily if not always comfortably.
Exuberant ... Fans of Smith will pick up on the familiar laundry of her sensibility within the first few pages of The Fraud: the boisterous narrative intelligence; the ear for dialogue; the chronic absence of boring sentences. I’d wager that this is her funniest novel yet ... Every few pages I was struck by how light the novel feels, despite its length and epic themes. The short chapters glide tellingly between decades and scenes.
Elegant ... A more successful Zadie Smith novel than her 2016 outing Swing Time ... Still, the three stories of this novel never quite cohere into one grand piece ... There’s so much joy in watching Zadie Smith deconstruct a lie that the flaws in this book might not matter all that much.
Partly about an enslaved man on a Jamaican sugar plantation, and it’s a comedy: those two things at once. Few would dare; fewer could pull it off as Smith does here, mixing narrative delight with a vein of rapid, skimming satire as she sketches scenes of life in 19th-century England and the Caribbean ... A complicated mosaic of episodes from interleaved plots ... In all her novels, Smith refuses single trajectories and central heroes. Here, in glimpses and panoramas, she finds the meshing fibres of the world that link Bogle with the eminent Victorian novelist writing romances, with the Stepney woman cheering an impostor in a courtroom, and with Eliza ... A curious combination of gloriously light, deft writing and strenuous construction. There’s a risk of readerly bafflement as bright shards of narrative are shaken into unpredictable combinations across time and place. But the novel’s hybridity becomes part of its fascination. It slows and expands lavishly in honour of its Victorian subjects, yet its chapters are elliptical half-scenes chosen with modernist economy.
A rich stew of a book, but the problem is not just that the story doesn’t flow, it’s that it actively resists flow with a jumpy time scheme that confounds the reader, who just wants to be made welcome. In the first 150 pages I found myself regularly consulting my notes and flicking back to check on names, histories and relationships, which isn’t conducive to reading pleasure.
Smith, essentially an old-fashioned prose stylist, has returned to terra firma with the nineteenth century. The expansive narrative voice I’d so missed in the first-person Swing Time is back, and there are swift, assured character portraits ... The group scenes involving Ainsworth’s literary pals are the first warning sign that The Fraud might not be a winner ... Unwieldy ... Historical fiction has appropriation baked into the deal. It might be scary, but at some point you’ve got to be brave enough to just push off.
It is not an easy read, but stay with it because Smith has done something unusual here and the result is an original portrait of the past and present and how it all becomes unified ... A novel of our times, with stories within stories, and facts that appear only when we are prepared to appreciate the narrator and the narrative.
A defiantly non-linear timeline swings back and forth between past and present in a way that brings chaotic energy to the first half of the book but somewhat affects momentum in the final quarter when the reader might prefer to stay with the current action. The quality of the individual scenes is never in doubt though. There is a palpable vibrancy to the various backdrops of courtrooms, literary salons, secret trysts ... Unlike anything you’ll read this year: a charismatic, cerebral novel that asks us to consider the greatest fraud of all, that of one man claiming to hold the key to another’s freedom.
...written in the third person and heavily researched, is undeniably British, its focus more insular. Some of Smith's signature moves are still present in the sparkly prose, though, including short chapters that suit our distracted age. Here, too, Smith employs a nonlinear narrative that requires attention as we follow the divergent strands of the reedy story line ... To present her big ideas about ethics, Smith has manifested the near-perfect, brainy character of incisive Eliza Touchet, aptly nicknamed 'the Targe' by the Ainsworths. But eventually her readers might long for the Targe to exert some influence on the length of the novel, excising it by about 100 pages.
Wielding delectably honed language in pithy chapters spiked with surprising revelations, needling observations, and lacerating truths, Smith, in her most commanding novel to date, dramatizes with all-too relevant insights crucial questions of veracity and mendacity, privilege and tyranny, survival and self, trust and betrayal.
The Fraud is a more successful Zadie Smith novel than her 2016 outing Swing Time, which contained striking images and interesting ideas but was hampered by a deliberate lack of center. The heart of The Fraud is flawed, charismatic Mrs. Touchet, who is so intelligent and yet not quite intelligent enough to see all the ways she fails herself. Still, the three stories of this novel never quite cohere into one grand piece ... In our own fraudulent age, with our man with no center making his way back to the front of his beloved crowds for another presidential campaign — well, there’s so much joy in watching Zadie Smith deconstruct a lie that the flaws in this book might not matter all that much. There’s enough that works.
How much the reader chooses to align herself with Eliza Touchet, or with any of the characters and stories in this novel, remains the reader’s choice. This is real literary freedom, an ingenious, unresolved tale told by a writer at the peak of her powers. The Fraud is anything but.
It’s not hard to build a case against The Fraud. The slave narrative is unforgettable, brilliantly handled – but it arrives too late. The three strands don’t always intermesh. The overlapping time frames can be confusing. The research can feel a bit In Our Time ... But remember the old definition of a novel as 'a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it.' It may not wholly convince, but moment to moment, The Fraud is a delight ... Inconsistent, yes. But a novel full of people, ideas, humor, feeling and something like moral truth – the stuff of life.
Set in Victorian times, the book is her first foray into historical fiction – but it also has so much to say about our present disintegrating little island and its obsession with sentimental reminiscence.
If Eliza’s liberal outlook sometimes stretches the credulity, she nonetheless makes for an enjoyably pithy guide through mid-19th-century London where she contemplates multiculturalism, the limited freedoms of women and the city’s suburban sprawl which creeps ever closer to Smith’s own stomping ground of Kilburn and Willesden, then still surrounded by fields ... As this novel shows, there is no better guide to people and their bottomlessness than Smith herself.
The cultural and literary life of Victorian England erupts vibrantly from each page of this extraordinary novel ... Smith wrestles contemporary themes surrounding women’s independence, racism, and class disparity from centuries-old events in her beautifully crafted historical.
It’s skillfully done, but the minutely detailed trial scenes provide more information than most readers will want, and a lengthy middle section recounting Bogle’s African ancestry and enslaved life, though gripping, further blurs the narrative’s focus. Historical fiction doesn’t seem to bring out Smith’s strongest gifts; this rather pallid narrative lacks the zest of her previous novels’ depictions of contemporary life. Intelligent and thoughtful but not quite at this groundbreaking writer’s usual level of excellence.
Mesmerizing ... Smith weaves Eliza’s shrewd and entertaining recollections of her life, a somber account of Bogle’s ancestry and past, brief excerpts from Ainsworth’s books, and historic trial transcripts into a seamless and stimulating mix, made all the more lively by her juxtaposing of imagination with first- and secondhand accounts and facts. The result is a triumph of historical fiction.