Anatomy of a Scandal is being touted as the next Apple Tree Yard. When in publishing did everything have to be the new something else by the way? The Girl on the Train became the next Gone Girl. The Girl Before became the new The Girl on the Train… Also, I’m crossing my fingers and toes that writers stop referring to fully adult female characters as “Girl.” It doesn’t even make sense. Please stop, thanks.
But if we are going to do this and draw comparisons, then yes, Anatomy of a Scandal and Apple Tree Yard are essentially courtroom dramas, and both contain scenes set in the House of Commons. But that is where the similarities end. Where Apple Tree Yard was genuinely edge of your seat stuff, Anatomy of a Scandal is a pretty predictable story. James Whitehouse is a charismatic, handsome and very much married politician- who finds himself standing trial for rape. His alleged victim is twenty eight year old colleague Olivia, with whom he had been enjoying sneaky extra martial liaisons for the previous five months within the Commons. Not long after their affair hits the papers, she alleges that their last encounter was non consensual. He argues that she never said no. His wife Sophie stands by him, but as the trial progresses, she begins to have her doubts.
Look, I don’t need to be constantly smacked around the head with insane plot twists or extreme graphic descriptions to have a good time. The plot was fine. It was topical, and raised important questions. What let Anatomy of a Scandal down for me, was the writing.
Or I should say, a very specific writing habit of the author, Sarah Vaughan. Take this quote: “I push on, for the evidence will only get harder.” And this: “I turn to Olivia. For it is time to draw her on.” And this: “I go on, for I must continue” And “He smiles here, for he is a very human judge.” And “She straightens for she is on safe territory here.” This repeated need to explain or justify what has just been said using the word “for” was weirdly formal, and unbelievably irritating. When I used to write stories as a child, I would do the exact same thing because I thought it made me sound grown up. In Anatomy of a Scandal, it gets really jarring, really fast. And she did it a hundred and seven times. One hundred and seven times! Honestly, I couldn’t get into this book because I was just constantly updating my tally!* What has Sarah Vaughan got against the word “because?” What is so wrong with using “as” every now and again?!
Let’s move swiftly on, or I may never stop. You think I’m joking. The story is told from the perspective of various characters in a mix of first and third person narratives. From the barrister who is relentless in her pursuit of justice to the detriment of her personal life, to the doting wife who will keep her family together at all costs, many of the characters feel like cliches, and are quite thinly padded out. The narrative swings from the mid 1990s to the present day, although there are not many references to the era which may help to set the scene a little more.
Themes in the book include consent and privilege- white privilege even, which does give the reader plenty to think about. Then again, the only three black (minor) characters felt disappointingly stereotyped- a couple of young black men casually discussing their friend’s next prison stretch, and the black juror who is oblivious when the judge mentions how well-known the politician defendant is.
Overall, I thought that this book was entertaining, and the plot and ideas were very topical. However, quite a few negatives brought down my total score for Anatomy of a Scandal, FOR that writing style, is inexcusable…
Plot: 3.5 / 5
Writing: 3 / 5
Characters: 3 / 5
Overall Enjoyment: 3 / 5
Total Score: 62.5%
*By the way, the one hundred and seven did not include the word “for” used in other ways, eg- “surprisingly slim for a broad man” was perfectly acceptable and therefore not counted.