Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan Simon and Schuster January 11th 2018
What do you do if your handsome husband who also happens to be a member of parliament and junior minister admits to an affair just before it is splashed across the papers? If your Sophie, his beautiful wife, mother of his two children, you brush yourself down, forgive him his misdemeanour, and wait for it all to blow over. And this is exactly what happens until suddenly that same person with whom he has the affair accuses James of rape.
Enter Kate Woodcroft, QC; criminal barrister hired by rape victim, Olivia to prosecute James. Focused, tenacious, a bit of a loner, Kate is determined to ensure James is found guilty and pays for his crime.
The stage is set, will Kate succeed, is James guilty, and can Sophie withstand the humiliation and betrayal and stand by her husband?
What unfolds is a novel steeped in intrigue, power and class divide.
Told from the perspective of the three main protagonists, Kate, Sophie and James, Vaughan gives us a deep insight into the thoughts and indeed the differing sides of the story.
James, privately educated, wealthy, an Oxford graduate and the best friend of the Prime Minister. It is in flashbacks to his time at Oxford in the 90’s and his membership of the Libertines, a rich boys lunch club, that his true character comes alive. He has a real sense of entitlement that whatever he does is right, that money and connections will protect him. His behaviour and particularly his attitude towards women is questionable but to reveal the full extent would be to spoil the plot. From the very beginning I disliked James and as the story unfolded my dislike intensified. He is everything we often see today on our televisions, and in our newspapers. It was appalling to read of the antics of his peers at Oxford because we know all too well that it is in the 90’s it was so very true.
Sophie is also privately educated, fairly wealthy background, and an Oxford graduate. It is during her time at Oxford that she meets and falls in love with James. Wooed by his charm James can do no wrong, although they lose touch at Oxford before meeting and marrying seven years later. Their marriage is dominated by James’s ambition to rise through the ranks of government, Sophie subservient, bending to his will. At the beginning I found Sophie hugely frustrating, so subservient, willing to accept James’s version of events and then slowly the real Sophie emerged. The real Sophie was a woman who realised that she could stand on her own two feet and have the life that she wanted, out of James’s shadow and control.
Kate is the normal, working class girl. Brought up in humble surroundings with no private education and none of the trappings of wealth, Kate has had to work hard to get where she is. A naive and shy girl, an incident forces Kate to reinvent herself, to become the the tenacious, confident and focused barrister who will eventually prosecute James. She has one true friend, Ali, is a friend that will stay with her through all of the novels tumultuous events. She is not an easy character to like but you have to admire her strong will, her vulnerability and her ability to hide her one big dark secret.
Vaughan holds nothing back in this novel neither from a political or class point of view. She writes so vividly and expertly about class divide, the haves and have not’s, not only in general society but also at places of such notorious privilege as Oxford. Vaughan has exaggerated the differing perspectives to heighten the drama and yes clubs may still exist at Oxford or Cambridge but I doubt such outrageous behaviour would be tolerated now as it was in the 1990’s. From a political perspective, I think Vaughan has got it spot on and it is quite worrying that MP’s such as James do exist, that they are responsible for running our country. Her previous career as a news reporter and political journalist have no doubt helped provide such authenticity to the events she so wonderfully describes.
You can guess or predict some of the revelations, but that is not what this novel is about. It is more about why things happen and how the characters are able to deal with secrets long hidden, and to reconcile what they have done or not done. It is about the intricacies of the relationships between the characters and the clever way in which the pieces of the jigsaw fit together.
Anatomy of a Scandal is what it is says it, an anatomy of a scandal both the good and the bad. It is a scarily true novel of our times and deserves all of the hype and attention it is currently receiving.
About the author
An Oxford graduate in English, Sarah Vaughan is a former Guardian journalist, news reporter and political journalist. Vaughan did not start writing novels until her 40’s and her first novel The Art of Baking Blind was published in 2014. It was followed in 216 by The Farm at the Edge of the World which became a bestseller in France.
Vaughan currently lives in Cambridge with her husband, two young children a geriatric cat and puppy.