Rating: 2 Stars
Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan is a book I’m not too sure about. I have mixed feelings about this acclaimed courtroom drama that has everyone singing its praises. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads, because I can’t see anything extraordinary in it. We all know that when it comes to legal thrillers, John Grisham is the master of this genre. There was a time when I used to read every book that he wrote. Compared to those, this is a very tame affair.
Warning: This review contains spoilers, and is reflective of how I felt while reading this book. Not everyone is expected to agree with me.
When James Whitehouse, a junior minister and the Prime Minister’s closest friend, is accused of rape by a colleague, his wife Sophie, knows that he is innocent. He may have indulged in a short-lived affair with the woman, but he was no rapist. So, even with all the anger and hurt about the affair, she is willing to stand by her husband when he needs her the most.
QC Kate Woodcroft knows that Whitehouse is guilty, and she will do everything to prove it in front of the jury. She might come off as insensitive and unfeeling when it comes to grilling witnesses, but she knows how to sway a jury, and she feels very strongly about making everyone see the truth.
As the drama unfolds in the courtroom, I couldn’t help but feel bored. The book was about fifty pages too long. There are no real surprises. I was able to make the connection between Holly and Kate almost from the beginning. I knew what had happened to Holly quite early on too. And the secret being alluded to since the beginning of the book, the secret that Sophie knows, is not as explosive as the writer would have you believe.
In the middle of all this, is something that I really didn’t like. There was this general thread that men are incapable of being faithful, as evidenced by both Sophie’s and Kate’s fathers, as well as Sophie’s husband. The thing that had me feeling uncomfortable was the tone of acceptability in the book. There are many books about women who won’t leave their cheating husbands because of one reason or the other, but those books make you feel that what these women are doing is wrong.
This book felt like the author was implying that staying with a cheat is better than not having a man in your life. Sophie was like all women in such situations, not wanting to leave but not wanting to stay either. So, there isn’t anything blatant which I can pinpoint, but I got the general feeling that as Sophie justifies James’s actions, the reader is also supposed to do so.
And then there is the whole underlying lesson of not taking anyone to court for sexual assault or rape. Because that is what I learned from this book. If Kate had won the case that she was prosecuting at the beginning of the book, or if she had sounded optimistic about the outcome of any such cases, it could be said that she was up against a master and she lost. But she lost the previous case, and keeps dropping gems like, “Juries are keen to convict the predatory rapist….yet when it comes to relationship rape, they’d really rather not know, thank you very much.” She keeps telling us that she wins cases, unfortunately we don’t see much evidence of that. Even in the courtroom scenes, she never comes across as the brilliant QC she is supposed to be.
So after reading 350 plus pages, we come to know that nothing much has changed, except the lives of the women involved, while the man is free to go back to his life, both public and private. There is hardly any mention of what happened to poor Olivia after the trial; Sophie is a shallow woman all through the story, with the sole aim of landing and then keeping a husband in her life; and Kate is destined to be alone and unloved because she chose to have a demanding career.
For a fan of outstanding courtroom dramas like To Kill A Mockingbird, A Time to Kill and Pelican Brief, this book is very mediocre, with forgettable characters and a weak storyline.