April 9, 2018

Book Review: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Sophie’s husband James is a loving father, a handsome man, a charismatic and successful public figure. And yet he stands accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is convinced he is innocent and desperate to protect her precious family from the lies that threaten to rip them apart. 

Kate is the lawyer hired to prosecute the case: an experienced professional who knows that the law is all about winning the argument. And yet Kate seeks the truth at all times. She is certain James is guilty and is determined he will pay for his crimes.

Who is right about James? Sophie or Kate? And is either of them informed by anything more than instinct and personal experience? Despite her privileged upbringing, Sophie is well aware that her beautiful life is not inviolable. She has known it since she and James were first lovers, at Oxford, and she witnessed how easily pleasure could tip into tragedy.

Most people would prefer not to try to understand what passes between a man and a woman when they are alone: alone in bed, alone in an embrace, alone in an elevator… Or alone in the moonlit courtyard of an Oxford college, where a girl once stood before a boy, heart pounding with excitement, then fear. Sophie never understood why her tutorial partner Holly left Oxford so abruptly. What would she think, if she knew the truth?

There is a big “twist” in Anatomy of a Scandal, one that I did see coming as soon as the first flashback is introduced. However, predicting the twist did not make it any less of a pageturner. There are other surprises in store for the reader, not the least of which is if James is truly guilty of what he is charged with. Some of my curiosity derives from following a case through the English criminal system, albeit a fictional one. I was surprised, for instance, to learn that barristers still wear old-fashioned robes and wigs in court, even the female ones. 

As the novel begins, it at first seems that we are meant to find Kate as our touchstone in the story – the crusading prosecutor determined to seek justice. The wife of the accused, Sophie, initially seems like a cold, unsympathetic character, who was lived, along with her husband, a too-perfect life all these years. But as the story reveals one twist after another, Sophie, who might have been a calculating or complicit at first becomes richer with dimension. There are more to the characters than meet the eye.

Scandalous yes, but also an anatomical glimpse into a genuinely realistic scenario apropos for these times. 

“But the truth is, women are often scared of antagonizing their assailants or they feel conflicted; not so very long ago they may have been charmed by them. And we women aim to please. It is hardwired into us that we should placate and mollify-bend our will to that of men….

“And so, yes, a young woman whose boss has touched her up or whose supposed friend has kissed her might well seek to minimize what has happened.  To think the best: that it was an out-of-character mistake, best forgotten or brushed over, whatever the pounding of her heart-and the shot of fear coursing through her-might betray.

“But she is a fool, and it is no wonder.

“Men can make fools of us all.”

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