Anatomy of a Scandal, by Sarah Vaughan

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Anatomy of a Scandal arrived unsolicited at my doorstep packaged with one or two other thriller / suspense novels. I won’t hide my thoughts that I’ve grown weary of these types of novels, and have started to shelve them towards the back of my bookshelves. I’ve stated those opinions here before about my reluctance to read anymore of the dead, murdered, missing, unreliable girl stories and this opinion has not been diminished. But this one arrived with a promise of much more because of the intriguing manner in how it was packaged:

“You want to believe your husband. She wants to destroy him.”

That evidence tag with, “What’s Your Verdict” printed on it became my bookmark when reading:

What definitely appealed to me and regularly drew my eye to it, over any of the others sent, was the promise of a courtroom drama. That’s what was going to set this one apart for me over the seemingly endless thriller novels being churned out with their cookie-cutter plots and characters.

Anatomy of a Scandal was also my first official read of 2018. (So it had a lot of pressure on it didn’t it? ;-) )

Sarah Vaughan has written an extremely current story in the wake of Hollywood scandal, the #metoo and the #timesup movements. And she has brilliantly nailed the male and female narratives! Anatomy of a Scandal is a novel about a scandal for one of Britain’s privileged elite and the women caught up in its wake. Sophie is the wife of James, the exceedingly handsome, privileged junior minister and best friend of the Prime Minister. Kate is the barrister, and Olivia is the victim, well, only one of the victims really. James is brought to trial for rape of Olivia, the woman he’s carried on a brief work place affair with, Kate is the prosecuting barrister, determined to convict James and Sophie is the wife standing by her man – but for how long, for is he innocent of this? Not innocent of being an unfaithful husband, but of rape?

I also enjoyed the background development of Kate and Sophie, and well James – it allows us to get into his mindset as well – Olivia may not be given her history outside of the courtroom, but it isn’t necessary since her role, her character comes across well and strongly too.

Vaughan brilliantly gets into the minds of men and women and so clearly details their line of thinking, their emotions, opinions, and mentalities.

“And she came to realize that he would never apologize for what he’d done. He couldn’t see he’d done anything wrong. That’s why it took some time to go to the police. She needed to properly process what had happened and accept it couldn’t be resolved or made better before she went to them.”

“I pause and my voice comes out in clots now, the pain suddenly building until my words are ragged, and I sound like someone else entirely. “He has done so much damage,” I try to explain. “He damaged me, and what he did has stuck with me and still affects me, over twenty years later, when I should be completely over it.”

” I will be ruined if I confess, but he will be politically rehabilitated and his star will rise.’ My voice goes up in desperation, and I look at her, suddenly frantic, for I need her to see how unjust this probable ending will be. How he – a man born lucky – will continue to thrive and excel; once more the golden boy for this will be seen as a blip, a madness brought about and prosecuted by vengeful women. An unfortunate stain that will be eradicated over the years.”

Could those quoted sentences above BE anymore accurate? (All quotations here are taken from the advance reading copy provided.) Could they encapusulate so many feelings, emotions, despair and outrage any better? Not only does Vaughan capture this side expertly, and of course, but she has also brilliantly captured the mentality of some men (note how I’ve used the word “some” because heaven knows you can’t generalize) and their thinking of women as just being “there” for them – there for their own uses, needs, as always inferior to them. It’s done so expertly. You want to shove it in so many faces and say READ THIS. This is basis for the current outrage and speaking out being done by women like the Silence Breakers and involved in the #metoo movement.

Just as expertly as she has captured the emotions and frustrations of women, she definitely nails the male perspective, this sense of entitlement I would say, this mentality that women are inferior or there for their needs, and their power and superiority over them. As James has expressed, “We are invincible, fucking invincible.”  

As a member of this Libertines group in college, his privilege and wealth are the rights of this social status. These rights extend to women as well: “He had raced through girls at college as if compelled. Things had changed for a while after he’d met Sophie…Yet even then, he was open to opportunities. That was what Oxford was about, wasn’t it? Exploration intellectual, emotional, physical – of all sorts.” “He had gotten away with it – in the same way that, as the only son with two older, doting sisters, he had always gotten away with things as a boy. He’d picked wisely: girls in different colleges, different years, reading different subjects, making it all possible.” 

The trouble with women is they don’t know what they want,” she once heard James expand to Tom, and the two of them had laughed like schoolboys.”

“Listen, he says, and he gives her a look of contrition, a look she would usually succumb to. “In my police interview, I may have misremembered events. She said no, half-heartedly, just the once, and I knew she didn’t mean it because I knew her, I knew the context – that she’d wanted it so many times…Equally, I may have used that phrase…that I saw her as a prick-tease…But I denied it in court because I didn’t think it relevant.” “But you didn’t tell the entire truth, did you?” “I told the truth, near enough. Or the truth as I saw it.” 

James’ involvement with the Libertines becomes an aspect to his downfall towards the end of the novel, yet is a weaker point to this story for me. But overall, I am left hoping for more by Vaughan in the future for novels like this. There is a definite desire, certainly by me, for more of these types of novels with a courtroom element. This was a strong narrative with legal and dramatic courtroom elements that can certainly fill a void here and propel these thriller / suspense novels in a new and much needed direction. Thank you Sarah Vaughan!