#AnatomyofaScandal #SarahVaughan #BlogTour

by Sarah Vaughan 

I don't often get the opportunity to read a book six months ahead of its publication day, so I am incredibly grateful to Jessica Barratt at Simon & Schuster for sending me a proof copy of Anatomy of A Scandal earlier this year. I am especially excited as I think this is going to be THE thriller of 2018 and it seems I'm not the only ....momentum and publicity around this book is building and without a doubt, this is a novel to look out for in January when it publishes!

One of the things that tells me this is a stand out novel is that even though I read it four months ago, it has really stayed with me. I still remember how I felt about the characters while I was reading it, how powerfully evocative some of the scenes were and how much I enjoyed the writer's style and accomplished execution of a narrative with multiple voices and a dual timeline. Recently, as word about this book spreads, I've really loved chatting about it and I can't wait to do this more in January when it's on general release. For me, who reads so much, the true test of a book is how I feel about it months later. I still love this book, I still think it's a five star read and I'm still excited for Vaughan and all she has achieved within these pages. The fact that it has become more topical than ever is the icing on a very delicious cake. 

So, finally.... here is my review!

This is an intelligent thriller which not only blends the genre of a court case drama with domestic thriller, but also includes many passages of exquisite writing about marriage, friendship, love and moral dilemmas. It is compelling and absorbing, thought provoking and evocative, chilling and desperately unputdownable. 

Anatomy of a Scandal is about Sophie and her husband James Whitehouse, Junior Minster and close friend of the Prime Minister, who is on trial, accused of a terrible crime. However, it feels that there is another crime being tried in the court case against James; the crime of a sense of entitlement, privilege and arrogance. In this articulate, accomplished domestic thriller Vaughan cleverly creates a trial where the perpetrator is not only being tried for his physical actions but also for his social status, past behavior and self absorption. His self assurance and wealthy background has lead him to believe he can behave recklessly without any thought for long term consequences or the effect his behavior might have on those he claims to love.  This is a fascinating novel that although driven by the drama of nail biting court room scenes, also takes time to develop complex characters whose layers are slowly pulled back revealing more hidden connections, entwined loyalties and the subsequent repercussions of shared histories, secrets and lies.

At nearly 400 pages Vaughan has allowed herself time and space to really develop and consider the roles of each character in the events leading up to the crime for which James stands trial. We slip between the past and present and hear from both Sophie, James’ wife, and Kate, the barrister. The tension is taught throughout as we sit in court one moment, join Sophie at home the next, watch Kate in her office and then delve further back to the days when all three characters were at University discovering who they were, making friends and allegiances that would bind them to their future and shape the course of who and what they then became. 

Vaughan is a skilled writer and at all the times the reader is firmly placed in the moment she is describing. The court room scenes feel authentic and convincing; the scenes from University will resonate with anyone who has been or ever lived away from home. Her writing is highly evocative; the atmosphere, dialogue, and pertinent details are all brilliant captured with polished prose. Even if you have never been to college, the description and insight shown in scenes exploring friendship groups, clichĂ©s, a sense of isolation and peer pressure will affect any reader and provoke strong emotional reactions whether it’s related to personal experience or not. The universal nature of the themes she tackles make this novel powerful and significant. The strength of engagement we feel with the characters make this novel powerful and significant.

Ultimately Anatomy Of A Scandal an exceedingly good story. It has engaging characters – some likeable, some not so much, some with little redemption at all but each one carefully crafted to drive the dramatic and emotional tension. This is a novel about choice, dilemma, commitment, loyalty and justice.  Aptly titled, this is indeed an investigation and exploration of each thread, join, link and part of a scandalous crime. 

5 stars. 

And to make things even more exciting - Sarah has kindly agreed to answer some of my questions so I am delighted to welcome her along today as part of the Blog Tour! 

A Q&A with Sarah Vaughan 

This novel is very complex and includes several different threads of story that gradually begin to collide. Lots of writers talk about their systems when planning a novel whether it’s a spreadsheet, a timeline, a wall of post it notes… Can you tell me a bit about the way you plan your stories? 

Anatomy of a Scandal was unique in that I literally dreamed the plot. I was thinking about what I should write as my next novel and in the morning I woke with the main plot points and the bare bones of the story formed. I knew from the start that I wanted to write about a barrister who would prosecute a junior minister accused of rape and I knew that I wanted a storyline involving things that had happened twenty-odd years earlier at Oxford. It didn’t take long for me to work out that I wanted the wife’s point of view to be important, as well. 

Unlike my two previous novels, where I used a massive piece of A2 card divided up into columns of chapter, point of view, what happens, timeline etc., I jotted the chapters for Anatomy down as a list, starting with the first five of them and, once I’d written these, planning through to the end. There were some changes to the plot midway through, and some playing around with where the past story would sit, but I still knew that I needed to get to the penultimate chapter. The final one made complete sense by the time I’d got to that stage.

Anatomy is my third novel and I’d had a nightmare with the structure of my second one so I was determined to plan this more carefully. I’ve just completing my fourth novel, and for this I have used coloured post-its so that I can make sure I keep to a structure of alternating first and third person narrators and that I achieve a balance between points of view. I don’t think I can plan an entire novel from the start as the characters lead me in certain directions, and I never like feeling pinned down, but I have to plot the first handful of chapters and write those in order to have the confidence to carry on.

Recently there have been some powerful TV series like The Good Wife and Apple Tree Yard which explore similar themes that you address in Anatomy Of A Scandal and focus on the drama of a court room. What do you think is it about the courtroom that appeals to the reader / viewer so much? 

Before I wrote novels I was a news reporter, for the Press Association, and then the Guardian, and because I had fast shorthand - 110 wpm at my speediest – I would be sent to cover high-profile criminal trials. I realised pretty early on quite how dramatic a court hearing can be. It’s not just because there’s an inherent drama in the way in which barristers dress and the court’s laid out but because of the adversarial system, in which witnesses are challenged and their answers can sometimes lead a trial to twist and turn unexpectedly – much like a great plotline. 

I saw this back in February 1997, when, as a very junior reporter, I attended the inquest of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence and members of the gang accused of murdering him stonewalled Michael Mansfield QC. There was an intense drama in their repeated “no comments” and in his grim, relentless questioning in the face of this. And then, of course, there’s the fact that the most serious crimes and heightened emotions are explored in a trial. A courtroom drama gives you a public gallery view of this.

This is your third novel. It seems to be a slight change in direction from your previous titles. Was this a conscious decision or was this just the story that you needed to write next? 

I actually wanted to write this as my second novel but my debut was a women’s fiction novel about motherhood and perfection, set around a baking competition, and my previous publishers thought, not unreasonably, it was too big a jump from baking to a book about consent. I wrote a second novel about love, loss and atonement, set on a remote farm in north Cornwall, but once that contract ended I jumped straight into this. 

Anatomy is my most personal novel and the one I was itching to write and that I’d been thinking about for two years before I got to it. But, though it’s darker in tone, I think there are strong elements of darkness along the same lines in both my previous books. There’s a flick of the same theme in the first novel and it’s more explicit in the second. This is a much better novel for being my third one but this was obviously something I needed to write properly about. 

Why did you decide to make your male character a member of parliament? Did this create any challenges or complications when you were writing? Did you have to research more for his character?

As a news reporter, I spent three chunks of my career working in the Houses of Parliament including over two years as a political correspondent for the Guardian. I knew from the start that James would be a junior minister in a Conservative government. He’s a person in a position of power, who is charismatic and persuasive, and so narcissistic that his reading of the truth is the only one he recognises – and the one he chooses to believe. 

I’ve certainly met charming men, and I’ve observed, and interviewed, charismatic, self-confident politicians, so this all felt quite straightforward to write. 

I was working in the lobby in March 2003, when the Iraq war was debated, and was there when the whole question of whether the dossier into weapons of mass destruction dossier had been “sexed up” so I learned how important nuance in language is in politics. How the official line isn’t the same as “off the record” or “deep background”; how “no comment” isn’t a denial. I was also there when two stories broke about senior politicians having affairs so all of this fed into the background of the book.

I read that you also studied at Oxford. How much of you is in the character in this novel? 

Nora Ephron famously said that “everything is copy”. Not everything that happens to Holly happened to me but, like her, I was an unsophisticated, provincial student who arrived at Oxford to read English Literature feeling like a complete fraud! I wasn’t from London or the Home Counties, I hadn’t attended a famous public school, and when the boy in the room opposite me announced he went to Eton, I was cowed but also so incredulous I wanted to laugh. 

I went to one of the most public school colleges – where a certain David Cameron had studied six years previously – but though, initially, I felt like an outsider, I also felt, academically, that I belonged. I had a full grant and so I was funded to read novels for three years, to write features for the university newspaper, Cherwell, to play in orchestras, to grow up in the most exquisite surroundings. It felt like an immense privilege and I wanted to capture that sense of awe, and that tentative awareness of belonging, as well as the fear of being an imposter. 

Your novel really could be a something that we see in the newspapers or see in court. Did you intend to write something so topical / Were you inspired by stories in the news? 

Yes! The day before I dreamed up the plot, back in November 2013, the footballer Ched Evans was refused leave to appeal against his rape conviction. (In 2016 it was subsequently quashed.) I’d read a column about the case by Allison Pearson, who lives in a nearby village, in which she quoted a local beautician saying that when the 19-year-old victim went to his hotel room she was “hardly going for a game of Scrabble.” It made me think about the judgments made about women in rape cases and of how exposing and damaging a rape trial must be. I also began to think about how difficult it can be to navigate sexual politics and how I hoped the situation would improve for my daughter, then eight (and son, then five). Of course the issue of consent has become even more topical but it’s long felt as if this was a story waiting to break.

Which character did you enjoy writing the most? Which character was the most challenging to write?

I absolutely loved creating Kate. It was my first time writing from a first-person viewpoint and I loved creating a clever, strong, flawed woman – someone I’d really love to be my friend. I suppose Sophie was the most problematic. I had huge sympathy for her but at times I wanted to shake her! She also has a more rarefied existence, materially than me, and though she needed to be like that, as the wife of an Old Etonian who’s always been privileged, I didn’t want readers to feel alienated. 

There are a lot of themes and issues raised in your novel. What one thing would you like the reader to take away from reading it? Or what one message were you trying to explore in the novel? 

I wanted to explore the issue of consent and I would be so moved if I felt this added to the current discussion about it. 

You have a lot of experience with writing both as a journalist and a novelist. Did this make writing and awaiting reviews for this book easier or different?

I found this my easiest novel to write because I felt so passionately about it. But because it feels the most personal, and because there’s been more excitement about it than my previous novels, I’m far more nervous about the reviews! I’m also conscious that I’m making a leap in my writing by tackling such a dark topic. All writing is exposing but I feel more exposed than ever before with this novel. But it felt too urgent, too important, an idea to ignore.

What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment? 

I’m just completing my fourth novel, which should be published in January 2019 all being well, and there’ll be US and UK edits for this. Then I need to write my fifth novel and hopefully dream up a sixth!

Thanks so much Sarah for answering all my questions - I've loved reading your responses and I definitely can't wait to read your next novel! 

I wish you every success with Anatomy of a Scandal when it publishes on the 11th January with Simon and Schuster! 

You can preorder the book here.


Or watch the trailer for the book here - it's amazing!



  1. Fab review and great interview! I love this too, it's such a page turner!

    1. Thank you - the interview is great isn't it! Sarah was so generous in her answers and time! So glad you enjoyed the book too!

  2. Can't wait to read this - heard so many fabthings! Great review x

    1. It's great - hope you enjoy as much as I did and look forward to hearing your thoughts!


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