For Kate the trial of charismatic MP and close friend of the PM, James Whitehouse could be the chance to right wrongs and make her mark as a QC. For Sophie Whitehouse the case is causing her world to crash down around her. For not only has she to contend with the fact her husband is accused of a heinous crime, she has to contend with the fact that she may not have really known him at all.
This is not your usual crime novel. It’s not your usual thriller. It’s not even your usual marriage thriller, though it is in part an anatomy of a marriage. There is a crime involved of course, for James Whitehouse stands trial. This is, as the title suggests, an anatomy of a scandal, a breakdown and a minute look at both sides of a high-profile case. It is also an exploration into the question of consent. It is the anatomy of what constitutes that little word ‘no’. Of the myriad ways in which people can justify abhorrent actions because they have decided what no means, for them and for others. It is the anatomy of a society, of acceptable norms and the casual judgments people make on others. The reader will, more likely than not, make a judgement on the case of R v Whitehouse as they read the evidence. It will, hopefully, make us all think a little more about rape and consent and the blurring of lines used as an excuse by some to justify and legitimise their actions.
This is a very timely novel, with the issue of consent and the abuse of power by many high-profile figures. That said, this is not a new topic, the issue of abuse of power and the almost hidden idea of relationship rape one that has been around for a long time, and is now becoming more exposed to society.
The writing is assured, compellingly so. There is nothing salacious, for the story goes behind the tabloid headlines that draw in those who are keen for scurrilous gossip and as a result makes the reader think more about the people behind this scandal, fictionalised though they may be. All the characters are well drawn and make immediate impressions, though those impressions will obviously differ for each reader. Kate is driven, motivated by something more than a love of the law. She may appear to be withdrawn, detached and even cold but I found there was something that immediately drew me to her. Similarly with Sophie, who despite being a very different character to Kate, was a character I liked, though she was not without her own faults. It was an interesting facet of the story to see these two characters develop. As for James, he is deemed to be a charmer, used to winning over people to see things his way, his charm having stood him in good stead for his role as MP. Whilst appearing to be the archetypal figure of public office, there is more to him than meets the eye. He is an ideal fictional embodiment of increasing number of public figures accused of similar crimes.
The story flits between characters and time periods, each one headed with the name of the character and the date. This works well, as we are able to learn more about each character on a more intimate level and the non linear progression means that the story becomes more layered and deeper as a result.
There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about this story. Except James. And the fact that the story was needed, that society’s notions of consent and the right people have to control their own bodies, that those who abuse their power have so little to rein them in, is still such an issue.
Anatomy of a Scandal is a book I can easily see transferred to the screen, it easily lends itself to being at least a tv drama series. I can also see it gracing many a bestseller list.
Sometimes words like gripping, assured and engrossing are trite and overused. Here they are apt. I look forward to reading more from Sarah Vaughan in the future.