"Anatomy of a Scandal" by Sarah Vaughan
When I read the synopsis of Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan, my mind immediately traveled to a show I binged with delight several years ago.
The Good Wife.
During my period of preoccupation with this program, I watched Julianna Margulies take betrayal fashionably episode after episodes and repeatedly wondered how I would handle a similar situation.
What if it were my husband?
Granted, since he is an online, work from home, math teacher — and his contact with other humans is exceptionally limited — I doubt that this will ever be an issue. Also, he’s about as romantic as a water buffalo, which has always seemed to me to be the least romantic of animals.
But still, I've pondered.
And I don't know.
Would I pick myself up, brush myself off, put on my smartest pants suit and head out to put my law degree to use — oh, wait... I don't have a law degree.
Or would I over-indulge in red wine and limited edition Scrabble Cheez-its™ while streaming Dawson's Creek and lamenting the failings of all men who exist outside of the boundaries of fiction?
More likely the latter, TBH.
As in many — really, most — contemporary novels, the exposition within the novel came from multiple perspectives, two of which were most significant.
The first of the two primary protagonists, Kate, is a highly skilled, no-nonsense lawyer — so, basically Julianna Margulies in seasons 2-7 — who has been tasked with prosecuting a government official against whom allegations of rape have been leveled.
The second primary protagonist, Sophie, is the wife of the accused government official Kate is prosecuting — and she handles the news of the accusation against her husband about as well as I suspect I would.
As if a high-level official being accused of a crime as major as rape isn’t significant enough, matters are further complicated by the fact that Sophie’s husband, James also happens to be a close personal friend of the prime minister. The two men have a complex history together that dates back to university, when both were members of an elite society — Read: formal group of spoiled rich kids.
As long-time friends, they share many experiences — some of which would be problematic for both of them if they were to become public knowledge.
Written in the style of a complex procedural, the novel details not only James’ trial — and Kate’s role in it — but also Sophie’s struggle as she works to reconcile the James she has always known with the man who stands accused of this heinous crime.
The novel, inarguably, had a ripped-from-the-headlines premise. Particularly in light of the #MeToo movement — which undoubtedly started after the submission of the final manuscript of this novel — the topic of men of great power abusing said power is something that’s current, relevant, and important.
And the way in which Vaughan told her story was fluid and, often, flowery.
As a repeat reader, you will know that I, personally, am generally a big fan of flowery language — and even some excessively descriptive description.
This is particularly true if said flowery language is used to describe Mr. Darcy walking through the meadow, his white shirt, wet from a leisurely dip in the lake, still clinging to his scrawny, British torso.
Okay, yeah, that wasn’t actually in the book version of “Pride and Prejudice”, but it completely should have been. #GetWithItJaneAustin
Anyways, despite my admitted penchant for flamboyant speech, even I found the description in this novel to be a bit — okay, more than a bit — too much.
As I slogged through page after page of heavy description, it started to become clear that the level of description — the formality of the writing — was negatively affecting the impact the plot was having on me as a reader.
As hard as it is to believe, the extreme verbosity took the sexiness out of the central sex scandal.
The thing is, the reason that word of a scandal spreads so far and wide is because scandals are inherently exciting... Sexy... Fun to furtively whisper about in quiet hallways or bustling streets.
In this novel, however, the author dissected the titular scandal in such detail... Added so many facets... Dwelled on the sadness and confusions and frustration so much... That the scandal itself lost its luster.
It became boring.
Part of this was, in my opinion, a direct result of the heavy use of flowery language.
Another major issue that I had pertained to characterization — specifically, that of James.
As you read on, you begin to realize that James is an astoundingly flat character.
As readers, we’re never really given the opportunity see James as anything but an asshole. So, when Sophie realizes that he is, in fact, an asshole, we don't have any of the shock and awe you would expect.
We are just left thinking, "Yeah, Soph... He's an asshole. He's always been an asshole."
For this to not have been the case, I would have had to see some of James being... you know... not a giant asshole.
And this would have taken time.
Time the author obviously didn't want to invest.
But she should have.
Because, without seeing James behave in a way that would make us like him, we don't like him. And, if we don't like him, the truth of the fact that he did transgress becomes not shocking, but instead, expected and in character with the James that we know.
And my final issue — the twist.
In the era of the modern thriller, nearly every reader wants twists and turns and surprises so substantial that they figuratively fall off their chairs and they literally have to stop and critically think through the situation and get it all straight in their heads.
From the perspective of an author, however, writing a twist is really fucking scary — and a bit of a risk.
You see, a twist either really works, or it really doesn't.
There really is no in between.
And, in this book, the major twist - that I admittedly didn't see coming - just didn't work.
The reason I didn't see the twist coming was actually the same reason it didn't work - it wasn't very believable.
*Even More Spoilers - Major Spoilers - I MEAN IT, THESE ARE SPOILERS!*
In this major twist, we learn that Kate, the lawyer prosecuting the case, isn’t just some random lawyer.
Nope. She’s got a history with James — and a score to settle.
You see, when “Kate” was in college, her name is “Holly”.
And, back then, James raped her.
Okay, so could the events that comprised this twist have occurred... Meh, maybe.
But, would they have? Probably not.
Sure, Holly, fueled by a burning desire for reinvention following a virginity-taking rape could have so significantly wanted to distance herself from the mousey, compliant girl who allowed herself to be taken advantage of that she entirely changed her appearance.
And yes, maybe she might have switched schools and majors, focusing on a new mission - finding justice.
Okay, yeah, she might have changed her name from the admittedly shitty Holly Berry to Kate Mawhinney... And then further changed her name to Kate Woodcroft by getting married and divorced. Sure, I guess.
But, even if I believe all of this, for me to believe this twist I still have to believe that she practiced law in the right capacity, at the right place and during the right time to allow for this case to land on her desk.
I mean, that's a lot of fucking believing.
Would the stars align in such a cosmically unlikely way?
Yeah, probably not.
While it’s not the only flaw, this really out of left field — and oh so unlikely — twist was the fatal flaw for me when it came to this novel.
Though the author definitely has a way with words, and the premise was ripe with potential, this book didn’t pack the power punch I had expected.
It gets 3 out of 5 cocktails.
Another day, another book. Want to see my next read? Follow me, here.
Use of the convention of dual protagonists is becoming exceptionally popular. And, sometimes, it really works. What’s your favorite novel containing multiple protagonists? Tell me about it in the comments, below.