There are certain books which pique your interest from the moment you hear of them. I have to be honest, from the moment I got my mitts upon Anatomy of a Scandal at Harrogate last year, I was intrigued. Like most months though, I was also extremely busy so when I came home I filed it on my must read shelf (and by filed I mean, it was in a nice neat pile) to be read whenever I found a spare moment. Like most months, that moment never came.
When I catalogued my tbr books at Christmas it went from the ‘must read’ to the ‘must read as it’s now one of my biggest regrets not having done so earlier’ shelf. It is a book which I listed in my most anticipated reads of 2018 post just before New Year. It is a book which I have seen countless superb reviews for on social media. It is a book I really wanted to make time for. Granite Noir, or more specifically a six hour drive to Dundee for work as a precursor to GRanite Noir, gave me the excuse and the opportunity I was looking for. I downloaded the audio book (you didn’t think I would read and drive did you?) plugged in the iPhone and set on my way. And what a journey it was. But before I tell you what I thought, let’s see what the book is all about.
What the blurb says:
A high-profile marriage thrust into the spotlight. A wife, determined to keep her family safe, must face a prosecutor who believes justice has been a long time coming. A scandal that will rock Westminster. And the women caught at the heart of it.
Anatomy of a Scandal centres on a high-profile marriage that begins to unravel when the husband is accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is sure her husband, James, is innocent and desperately hopes to protect her precious family from the lies which might ruin them. Kate is the barrister who will prosecute the case – she is equally certain that James is guilty and determined he will pay for his crimes.
‘A compelling and cautionary story about how we can never truly know someone else; how even after twelve years of marriage, a wife might not know everything about her husband. Brilliant, shocking, and gripping, once I started, I couldn’t stop reading’ Claire Fuller, bestselling author of Our Endless Numbered Days.
If ever there was a book which was more socially and politically relevant, more right on the money, more superbly timed than Anatomy of a Scandal then I certainly do not know what it is. Tapping into key issues of the day from political corruption, abuse of power and the ‘me too’ movement of sexual harassment in the work place, this is both a fantastic work of fiction and a damning indictment of all that is wrong with modern society and the way in which we shame both victims and accused, this book is absolutely pitch perfect. Bearing in mind that I had a copy of the arc eight months ago, I don’t know that it could even be possible to predict all that was about to happen in Hollywood, but if this was anything more than freakishly good luck on the part of both author and publisher then I want Sarah Vaughan to pick my lottery numbers.
Now it could be argued that there have been murmurings about this kind of issue for the longest time. First the celebrity scandals of the past few years with the likes of DLT, JImmy Saville and Rolf Harris, then the rumours and stories surrounding a certain President of a rather large country to the West of the UK, whatever the background, the central premise of this book is not an entirely unique one, or at least not one without a very solid and disturbing foundation to draw upon. Given the very recent past and the allegations against the likes of Harvey Weinstein and several serving and former UK politicians, timing is impeccable. But it is one thing to have perfect timing, it is another entirely to be able to convert that fortune into a compelling, consuming, sometimes disturbing, often confusing, but ultimately brilliant narrative.
Big tick in the box for Sarah Vaughan on that one.
From the very beginning of the audio book I found myself being drawn in, slowly but surely, the gradual build of the opening chapters in which we are introduced to the key players, Kate, Sophie and James and the very distressing case which will tie them all together. They are intriguing characters, with Kate and Sophie having the largest part to play in the action initially. They seem exact opposites. Kate is career driven, harsh, dedicated to the bar and not family. Sophie is a mother and wife; a person who lives by the needs of her politician husband James. We meet Kate as she comes down from the disappointment of failing to secure a conviction in a rape case and Sophie as she is faced with some very shocking news about her husband. But what could destroy one woman, may be the making of the other and from here on in the stage is set for a telling and shocking clash.
Now I don’t want to say too much more about the plot or the story other than James makes a grave error embarking on an affair which has massive repercussions for his private and political life. A close friend and ally of the Prime MInister he is afforded a certain amount of support and protection but given the nature of allegations against him it is inevitable that a certain amount of mud will stick. As the story moves to the courtroom we are met with the perfect portrayal of modern society and what is in essence wrong with the justice system.
We move back and forth in apportionment of blame and a certain amount of victim shaming both inside and outside of the courtroom. Sarah Vaughan makes us take a long hard look at the issues of consent, clouding out understanding of what has happened, introducing elements of doubt in which even we are readers or listeners are not ultimately sure what it what. Who is actually the guilty party? Accuser or accused? Should the alleged victim be shamed for being a ‘tease’ or is it right that a family can be destroyed by allegations which have yet to be proven? Really we are faced with the perfect dilemma and I have to admit to having my emotions move back and forth between what I believe to be true which still being left horrified at the idea of what has or may have happened.
Interspersed within the present day we also have chapters or sections set in the days of James and Sophie’s time at university. These inform the narrative by painting a picture of privilege, expectation and entitlement. By giving a clearer illustration of the people that they were and the people they would go on to become. Of the events which in their own way came to bring the three main players to the place in which we find them today. There are scenes here which will shock, scenes which will feed the hatred of upper class pomposity and scenes which will showcase the extreme abuse of power which has been allowed to fester and grow.
This is such a hard book to review as it is just so good. I am not entirely sure I can say exactly why, whether what I’ve written so far actually explains my feelings adequately. It is just … right. The audio book is absolutely brilliant and in what should probably be a very worrying truth that I perhaps should not commit to print, I can honestly say that I was so engrossed in the story that I only vaguely remember passing Gretna Green, know I passed Stirling because I thought about how I would be back in a few months for Bloody Scotland (okay a lot of months) and was ultimately extremely surprised to find myself outside my hotel in Dundee in next to no time. I finished the book that evening as I wasn’t prepared to wait for the conclusion. I needed to know how it ended. I was not disappointed.
Did I like any of the characters? Possibly not. I’m not entirely convinced that is necessary in a book of this nature. I could feel something, perhaps a touch of sympathy for Kate, Sophie and the alleged victim, but most were lacking in true redeeming qualities, often for very good reason. Did I like the book? No. I didn’t.
I loved it.
My only regret is that I didn’t read it sooner. Fluffing brilliant and totally top banana 😉
You can purchase your own copy of Anatomy of a Scandal from the following links.
Now if you find yourself at a loose end on Monday evening, 5th March, and you are in the London area, then why not head over to First Monday Crime where you can hear Sarah Vaughan talk about Anatomy of a Scandal alongside fellow authors Elly Griffiths, Stav Sherez and Matthew Blakstad, with moderator Jake Kerridge. It promises to be quite a night. You can find out more about First Monday Crime and book your free ticket right here.
About the Author
Sarah Vaughan read English at Oxford and went on to become a journalist. She spent eleven years at the Guardian as a news reporter, health correspondent, and political correspondent. She left to freelance and began writing fiction the week she turned forty. Her debut novel, The Art of Baking Blind, published by Hodder & Stoughton, St. Martin’s Press, and in seven other languages, was the result. The Farm at the Edge of the World was published in June 2016 and will be published in Germany and France. Sarah lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children.
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