Review published on December 15, 2017.
I’m what you might call a fan of Sarah Vaughan’s writing. I read The Art of Baking Blind when it first came out and the same with The Farm at the Edge of the World. I loved both of them so when I heard she had a new book coming out I was eager to get my hands on a copy. What I didn’t expect was something so different to her previous books, but what I did expect was Vaughan’s usual intelligent and insightful writing style and this certainly shone through in Anatomy of a Scandal.
The scandal in question is picked apart with a fine-toothed comb, examined and reconstructed under the careful eye of Kate, the barrister prosecuting MP James Whitehouse as he stands accused of a heinous crime. We follow Kate through the life of the trial and how she deals with it. Her part of the story is told in the first person and yet we also hear from Sophie, James’s wife, and James himself in a smaller way, and their parts are in the third person. I liked this change in perspective as I think it helped to experience the courtroom tension through the eyes of Kate herself.
And the courtroom scenes do make up a fair bit of the novel. I loved them. I loved how it all unfolded and how Kate approached her case, her opinions of the jurors, her questioning, summing up. And when the verdict was due I felt that flutter in my tummy, that moment of anxiety as I wondered which way it would go. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to help my eyes drifting along the pages and picking out the words so I covered them with my hand. I wanted to know the verdict when the characters did, to feel that elation or dismay along with them.
This is such an accomplished book. I have said before when reviewing Vaughan’s work that she writes books that cannot be rushed. This is true of Anatomy of a Scandal. There is a gradual build up, some might say a slow start that pulls the reader in to the lives of these characters, but then it totally engrossed me and I found I didn’t want to put it down.
There are back stories from Oxford where some of the characters were students in the 1990s, tales of privilege, wealth, entitlement. These sections are interwoven into the modern day story and provide contrast and an understanding of how they got where they are in the current day. And the storyline as a whole is so relevant, so current, so inspired.
There are no great surprises here. Even the twist was one that I guessed but I don’t think it’s meant to be a book that takes the reader by surprise, more one that creeps up and when you turn that final page you do so with a sort of quiet ‘wow’ and a feeling of having read something rather special. I think it’s safe to say that I would read anything Sarah Vaughan writes and feel certain that I would be getting a cracking good read, no matter what subject matter she chooses. Anatomy of a Scandal is one to watch in 2018 for sure.
Nicola Smith, Short Book and Scribes, 5/5
Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan
Simon & Schuster UK 9781471164996 hbk Jan 2018
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