Welcome to Read this Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that needs to jump onto your TBR pile! This fall, we are in for an array of incredible novels from some of the most brilliant minds writing in the English language. So I’ll be featuring several of them over the coming season. This week to start us off, I’m recommending one of my most anticipated books of the year.
The Fraud by Zadie Smith
As a British novelist, you could say Dickens has haunted Zadie Smith throughout her career. She swore she’d never write a historical novel, but here she is with The Fraud, a historical novel set in mid-19th century London.
Mrs. Touchet is a Scottish housekeeper for Ainsworth, her cousin by marriage. Throughout his decades-long career, Ainsworth has remained a middling novelist, especially in comparison with some of his famous friends, like the ever-charming Charles Dickens. Now it’s the 1870s, and Mrs. Touchet is watching part of the trial of a man claiming to be the inheritor of an estate. But this man is a working-class Australian man—what a laughable idea that he could ever belong to the upper crust.
Much of this book is a romp, a hilarious take on the wealthy white men who dominated the literary scene that gave us the Victorian novel. She flavors her prose with the literary style of the era. There are so many tongue-in-cheek asides and such witty banter, all with Smith’s stellar ear for dialogue.
But The Fraud refuses to let its readers stay comfortable in the cozy world of literary salons. There’s this plot thread that follows characters enslaved on a sugar plantation in the Caribbean. We follow their experiences and see the bigger picture of how rich white men have profited from their enslavement, which gave these men the ability to create these novels. But these men never want to confront how their privilege made their art possible. Instead, they would rather see themselves as artistic geniuses.
Smith performs the audiobook, bringing to life the many different kinds of people — and their accents — that we come across in her novel. Her cheeky prose and sharp wit make the audiobook an incredible listen. In moments of her narration, Smith even sings.
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That’s it for this week! You can find me over on my substack Winchester Ave, over on Instagram @kdwinchester, or on my podcast Read Appalachia. As always, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. For even MORE bookish content, you can find my articles over on Book Riot.
Happy reading, Friends!