Book review: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Monday, December 18, 2017 Permalink

I’d had an advance copy of this book for quite some time before I finally read it. I’d been waiting until closer to its publication date, but had I realised I’d enjoy it as much as I did, I might not have left it so long.

The book’s author, Sarah Vaughan was formerly a news reporter and political correspondent so is well-placed to write about politics and British Parliament and she certainly includes a lot of information about political landmarks and easily and casually references political machinations and the political game-playing ‘behind’ the politics.

Book review: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah VaughanAnatomy of a Scandal
by Sarah Vaughan
Published by Simon & Schuster
on January 1st 2018
Source: Simon & Schuster
Genres: Legal Procedural, Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 9781471164996
Pages: 400

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 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.

This book unfolds from three (well four) points of view. Initially we meet Kate – the QC – a criminal barrister who in many ways seems cold and distant. But there’s another side to her. One she tells us she keeps hidden from those around her.

You can tell I’m in a bad mood when I start thinking like a student politician. Most of the time I keep my Guardian-reading tendencies to myself. They can sit oddly with the more traditional members of my chambers; make for heated discussions at formal dinners as we eat the sort of mass-catered food you might get at weddings – chicken, or salmon en croute – and drink our equally mediocre wine. Far more diplomatic to limit oneself to legal gossip…..

I can rattle through such conversations while thinking of my workload, fretting about my personal life or even planning what to buy the next day for dinner. After nineteen years, I am adept at fitting in. I am skilled at that.

But in the sanctity of my room I can occasionally let myself go, just a little, and so, for a minute I put my head in my hands on my mahogany partner’s desk; squeeze my eyes tight shut; and press my knuckles in hard. I see stars; white pinpricks that break the darkness and shine as bright as the diamonds in the ring I bought for myself – for no one else was going to buy it for me. Better to see these than to succumb to tears. pp 4-5

And then there’s Sophie who we meet at the worst possible time… in many ways she’s in a little cocoon, contented with her two children and handsome high-achieving MP husband though even then we can sense there’s something from the past she’s stifled as much as she possibly can. And then the bubble / cocoon thingy bursts when James shares news of an affair. One that’s about to hit the news.

We then pop into James’s head, just as he’s feeling a sense of relief that the media has moved on from the sordid news of his affair with a young parliamentary researcher, things get much much worse.

We also briefly drop in on Kate’s best friend, Ali – a mother, wife and teacher – with a life so completely removed from Kate’s it’s hard to see how the pair became friends.

The current events are interspersed with some snippets from the past. We meet Holly – who feels like a misfit at Oxford. She’s there on a scholarship and doesn’t quite fit in with the beautiful people, including a young talented rower, Sophie… Yes THAT Sophie!

And even though we meet James’s wife (back then) we don’t initially get a lot of insight and only really see her through Holly’s eyes. Initially they’re star-glazed but she soon sees Sophie’s true colours. She’s not a bad person but happy to sponge off Holly’s academic efforts and really just biding time until she marries well. Holly describes herself as both ‘entranced and appalled’ by Sophie. Nonetheless she jumped at the opportunity to vicariously experience Sophie’s life.

I could relate to Holly and although my own college life and University years are three or so decades behind me I remember being exposed to wealthy and privileged kids for the first time. Kids who were second generation tertiary students. Or third or fourth. Most were nice and not judge-y about those of us from public (state) schools. But there was a sense of confidence (perhaps entitlement) I’d not really experienced before and I was often surprised by that sense of untouch-ability and occasional complete disdain for potential consequences. Of course I realise that some of that bravado was a result of hormones and the stupidity that comes from copious amounts of alcohol and a need to fall in with what your cohorts are doing; but still, that sense of privilege was often there.

I guessed the first of the twists in the novel and we’re lead there pretty early. It made me wonder what was still to come because the climax comes earlier than expected. However, there are constant references to other secrets, something worse that lurks in the background – something that involves James and his best friend (Tom, the Prime Minister).

I read a book two decades ago that I’ve always remembered (Guilt by Association by Susan R Sloan) and thought this might go down that route – something concocted to pay for an old crime / offence but this went in a different direction. I’m not sure if I was a little disappointed at the end; though (in fact) it’s more realistic in the way it unfolds. And I’m reminded people’s beliefs and feelings are not black or white;  it’s often the things we least expect that allow us to take action or move on.

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan will be published in Australia by Simon & Schuster in early January 2018.

I received an early copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.



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