The Fraud is a novel with a complicated plot. It opens in 1735, and closes in the 1780s, so it covers a lot of ground. Growing up, Grace Marshall had every intention of becoming a Painter; but her brother Philip was the one who was permitted to take his Grand Tour to Europe to study art. Many years later, he comes back from Grace—as Filipo de Vecellio, conquering the world of portrait painting in London. He enlists his sister’s help in his deception, and Grace becomes Francesca, housekeeper to the famous portrait painter. It’s a remarkable self-sacrifice that Grace makes, but she does it for love of her brother—who, in time, she ends up hating.
There’s a whole lot going on in this novel, some of it crucial to the plot, some of it not (I won’t go into specifics, but sometimes I felt as though the author thought “what’s the worst thing that can happen in this situation?” and made it happen to her characters). I also didn’t really believe in Grace’s relationship with James Burke (because honestly, would someone like him really have behaved the way he did in real life?) There are lots of run-on sentences, and the author seems fond of Capital Letters.
It’s a good story nonetheless, well researched, that takes place in the art galleries and auction rooms of London at a time when English art was beginning to be taken seriously. There’s a huge amount of detail here—right down to the very materials used to mix paint! Well-drawn (if I may use the pun) are the characters—Grace’s passion for her art is almost palpable, and Philip’s boorishness is maddening at times. Technically the book is well written, though the jump back and forth between Grace’s narration and the omniscient narrator may be a bit jarring at first (as it was to me). It’s a novel of passion, of obsession, and of money—above all things, money, which drives the motives of most of the characters of this novel.