Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan – Book Review
By Karl Hornsey
Sarah Vaughan’s third novel could hardly be more timely. This tale of political intrigue and the effect of a college rape on a woman’s life combines many of the talking points of current times. Told throughout from the viewpoints of barrister Kate, MP James and his wife Sophie, the story moves back and forth over more than 20 years to tell of the continued legacy of how one man’s actions come to dominate two women’s lives.
There are inevitable comparisons being drawn between this and recent hit Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty, given the focus on abuse of power in political circles and the impending court case. There’s little doubt that Anatomy of a Scandal will go the same way and find itself later this year on BBC1 at 9pm on a Sunday – and as a courtroom drama, it stands up well.
Vaughan’s experience as a political journalist and news reporter comes through at all times and her intimate knowledge of the procedures helps the reader through some fairly lengthy and harrowing courtroom scenes.
The lead character of Kate is, to my mind, the strongest point of the novel and the most interesting character – someone who one cares about and wants to see succeed. Her reasons for pursuing her chosen career path soon become clear and her strength of purpose is endearing, although the other two leads are less convincing. Sophie, as the wife in the shadow of a famous husband, proves difficult to sympathise with, even if it’s not necessarily her fault that she is too weak to stand up to her husband.
“Signposted too obviously”
While the story rattles along at an excellent pace, even allowing for it moving between decades, my main gripe is with the character of James, or almost, I should say, the caricature of James. The premise of the story, of a woman accusing a man in power of rape, the feelings of the man’s wife and of those pursuing justice all make for gripping drama. However, I feel Vaughan’s choice of making James an MP with the ear of the Prime Minister, someone for whom privilege has made him who he is and someone detached from reality actually detracts from proceedings.
Going into great depth about his university days and his morally repugnant activities as part of a thinly-veiled Bullingdon Club-style clique, which simply repeats the scenario shown in such vivid detail in the 2015 film The Riot Club, doesn’t add anything new. Quite the opposite. Instead, from that point on, I felt as though I was reading something I’d already read, and the plot from thereon in was signposted too obviously, losing the dramatic license that had been building nicely.
That quibble, and fairly major quibble apart, this is still an interesting read and one worth picking up, although I seem to be less enthusiastic than the majority when it comes to thinking this is something fresh and genre-developing. There’s an element these days given what’s happening in political circles in this country, and of course in the USA, that truth is often stranger than fiction. In which case, this fairly by-the-numbers novel comes as a welcome, if slightly forgettable, distraction.
‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ by Sarah Vaughan is published by Simon and Schuster, £12.99