Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Increasingly relevant: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Anatomy of a Scandal is a tense novel about power, privilege, and knowing the secrets from someone’s past. James is a politician on the rise, a family man with a long-standing connection to the PM. His wife Sophie has known him since they were both at Oxford and thinks she knows all the skeletons in his closet. However, when he is accused of a crime that cuts right into Sophie’s vision of her husband, she must consider whether she will continue to stand by him. And Kate, the barrister prosecuting James, has a past of her own, and is certain James is guilty, willing to put her all into getting him convicted.

Vaughan weaves together these main characters into a drama that jumps between the courtroom, the modern political world, and early 90s Oxford. It has elements of a psychological or domestic thriller, complete with questioning of the truth and intense legal proceedings, but Anatomy of a Scandal is more than that, an anatomy of individual viewpoints surrounding a scandal that covers political coverups, drinking societies and class difference at Oxford, and difficulties of rape accusations and trials. The epigraph is from Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies and the way that Mantel combines the political and the personal whilst talking about the truth makes it a good comparison, despite the vast difference in subject matter. The novel is not solely psychological, or just a courtroom drama, but one that shows personal emotion within larger power structures.

The narrative is told from the points of view of major characters, with Vaughan withholding information or structuring it in a way that builds tension and gives the reader a sense of being caught in the middle of the secrets as they unfold. Her Oxford is very recognisable to anyone who has been and the whole novel is detailed, giving enough information to allow the reader to work out elements, but also keep guessing about what really happened or will happen. Though James and Sophie’s marriage is a real focus, it is Kate who stands out as someone caught between past and present, though at first she appears to just be a simple barrister character who will form the courtroom threat.

Anatomy of a Scandal is the kind of book that will appeal to both fans of thrillers and those who prefer something a bit more general, combining character relationships and backstory with tense prosecution. The focus on a privileged world—from the arcane rituals of both the court and Oxford to the money and power of politicians—can be fascinating and adds to questions of who should really be believed. It has plenty of gripping drama and would clearly make a great TV adaptation in the future.