I had not read a novel for a while. This book had been heavily promoted and came with enviable review copy. The plot line involving Parliamentary scandal interested me, the author’s credentials as a political journalist were persuasive. Bought.
Just recently I have read several autobiographies which have been poorly written, with Roger Daltrey’s top ( or bottom) of the list, several novels before that equally so, with Andrew Marr similarly high or low on the roll of dishonour. What struck me immediately as the first chapter unfolded was that this book is well written. Her studies as an Oxford English Graduate come through not only in the calibre of her prose, but also in the authentic depiction of Oxford collegiate life.
Similarly, her description of politicians and the judiciary, and their home and private lives is colourful, authentic and engaging.
Her tale starts well, each chapter headed with a first name, usually that of a woman, opening with barrister Kate whose task it will be to prosecute an MP and government Minister charged with rape. Written by a woman, female characters predominate, the perspective is female and the #metoo landscape is firmly embraced.
The meat of the book is the Court Case, always rich, fertile, dramatic stuff for a writer. However, I found that it was here that the narrative ran out of steam. The opening chapter describing the barrister in chambers is superb, atmospheric, intriguing and compelling. Wife Sophie is beautifully and sympathetically introduced to us, brash James, her husband is clearly a bounder from the start. Dark insinuations about his relationship with fellow Oxfordian Tom the PM are introduced. The exposing of James’ affair comes early, the rap allegation comes quickly. The assumption is that the trial will be drawn out with twists and turns aplenty. But the latter fails to transpire.
Only one twist comes from the trial itself. In the aftermath of the trial verdict, again the assumption is that another twist awaits. But it doesn’t. There is a turn, but it is so laboured, so badly laid out, that it fails to convince.
It is a statistical truth that women read male writers more than men read female writers. In “Anatomy of a Scandal” at times the narrative was so heavily loaded from a female perspective it loses its sense of balance. Yet I don’t think that balance is Vaughan’s objective, and that is fine.
In summary, a very well written book, that loses its way in the second half, which is saved by the writing, rather than the plot.