When James Whitehouse is accused of rape by his former mistress, the subsequent trial causes a media sensation as the handsome politician seems to have the perfect career and family life.
For Sophie Whitehouse, the trial is a test of endurance as she is forced into the role of the dutiful wife while her husband’s dirty laundry is aired in public. Sophie disguises herself in to order to sit unobserved in the public gallery while her husband’s mistress relates her story and comes to the uncomfortable conclusion that James may not be telling the truth about his innocence.
For prosecuting attorney, Kate Woodcroft, this is one case she is determined to win because she is tired of seeing privileged men like James Whitehouse escaping the consequences of their actions. However, Kate was a victim of rape herself as a student at one of England’s most hallowed universities and the case stirs painful memories to the point her professional ethics are brought into question.
Anatomy of A Scandal owes much of its success to the harassment scandals rocking various industries at the moment which has made the book’s subject matter very topical, however I found it rather disappointing. The narrative is told from the point of view of several characters who offer differing perspectives of the events of the book which leaves the reader in the position of trying to establish who is telling the truth. As the plot unfolds, it becomes obvious James has more than one skeleton in his closet and it takes a while before the pieces all start to fall into place.
The story is split between the events of the present day and those of the past, however not all the narrators are involved in both. The majority of the narration in the present is given over to Kate and Sophie, with minimal input from James, while the narrative of the past is given to someone who initially seems unrelated to the present. Strangely enough, while the alleged rape scene is told from James’s point of view, we only ever hear the mistress’s via her testimony in court and her story is ripped to shreds by the female defence attorney. While the narratives are obviously meant to have questions marks over them, I found them far too one-sided at crucial points to be able to assess the situation fairly.
Kate spends a great deal of time explaining the processes behind a trial with everything being presented in such a way as to manipulate the jury into giving a verdict in favour of whichever attorney plays the game better. Some of Kate’s actions are deeply unethical and I’m not sure if we are meant to excuse her when the truth of her past comes to light but it is hard when you consider the outcome of the trial itself was in jeopardy and could’ve easily been dismissed as a mistrial. I’m not going to reveal the verdict but the outcome is predictable based on the evidence presented.
Once the trial is concluded, the characters deal with the aftermath but I had completely lost interest by this point and found myself not really caring about them. The concluding chapters build towards Sophie realising her marriage is beyond salvaging and since she is no longer willing to play the part of the trophy wife, she has some difficult decisions to make. A carefully placed tip in the ear of a journalist sets in motion a chain of events that strike at the heart of government itself which sounds a lot more interesting than the story we actually got.