I’m so delighted today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of Reputation by Sarah Vaughan. Published by Simon & Schuster on 3rd March, it’s now available in hardcover, as an e-book on all major platforms and as an audiobook. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation and support, and to both her and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.
I read and enjoyed my first book by Sarah way back in 2015, The Art of Baking Blind – heralded as one of the must-read paperback releases of that summer, it was also her debut and a really excellent lighter contemporary fiction read but with some dark secrets and serious issues lying just under the surface. And that was followed by The Farm at the Edge of the World the following year – I entirely loved that one, and knew I would from the opening pages (you can read my review again here). And then, of course, came Anatomy of a Scandal (soon to be a Netflix series, launching on 15th April) – the first of her books that everyone read, and finally discovered what a wonderful author she is (you can read my review again here). I’ve just realised, with some horror, that I never did read her last, Little Disasters – it must have just been timing I suspect (life, eh?), but that makes it a treat I can look forward to in the next few months. But now we have Reputation – and I was so looking forward to it…
A lifetime to build, one moment to destroy…
Emma is a high-profile MP. Impassioned and empathetic, she wants to make a positive difference but faces threats and trolling as she tries to work in the public eye.
When she launches a campaign to protect women from the effects of online bullying, the abuse steps up. And when her teenage daughter’s character is called into question, Emma learns how far she will go to protect both their reputations.
But still: how did she come to be standing trial for murder? She only lied once – didn’t she?
As with Sarah’s last two books, Reputation is both a very successful, suspenseful mystery and emotionally involving: the perfectly positioned book for readers who are curious about what it means to be a woman in the world today. A timely, thought-provoking novel about women, perception and power.
When I shared my review of Anatomy of a Scandal, I stressed the problems of reading a book with high levels of expectation – but as soon as I read the stunning and enigmatic short prologue to this one, I knew it was going to be something rather special. There are books you read and enjoy, then there are others that you seem to inhale, living within their pages, the characters and their situations entirely real and all you can think about… yes, it really is that good.
When Emma unexpectedly became a backbench MP – inspired by her father’s exhortations to do something and make a difference – its pressures and demands brought an end to her marriage. And when she becomes more prominent when leading a campaign against revenge porn inspiring the creation of “Amy’s Law”, the pressures only become greater – the press interest (although it’s also something to take advantage of), and the extraordinary torrent of hate and threats of violence on social media. There’s a particularly disturbing theme that as a public figure, she’s fair game – and the bottles of water on her desk to thwart a possible acid attack and an obsession with security become her new normal.
But she also has a life away from her public role, and a teenage daughter she loves and protects fiercely – and who doesn’t share all the details of her own life, the toxic bullying she’s experiencing, when her mother has more than enough concerns of her own. And when her daughter’s life – and one rash mistake – attracts the interest of the press who’ve previously been more than happy to work with her, everything begins to spiral out of control, culminating in a moment that sees Emma standing in court accused of murder.
The story really is quite wonderful – all-consuming, compelling, layered and satisfyingly complex, with the true facts always in doubt, the outcome deliciously uncertain. The characters are unerringly real – Emma herself with her raw fear and need to protect herself and those she loves, the other two women MPs with whom she shares her London home, her ex-husband and his new wife, her office colleagues, the members of the press who turn on her, the constituents and social media commenters who make her feel in constant danger. And that detailed characterisation is carried through to the court room, with the individuals of the jury, the prosecution and defence, the individuals who present their evidence, all seen through Emma’s eyes.
The research behind the whole story is impeccable, allowing the author to recreate the realities of life at Westminster – and the high standards expected from those who serve there, whatever the pressures – and the way a moment of madness driven by fear can bring everything crashing down. The court scene itself – a major part of the book – is an absolute triumph, quite wonderfully handled, building inexorably towards the moment when Emma must reveal her vulnerability and fight for her innocence.
And I really must mention the book’s emotional impact – Emma is never less than a sympathetic character, forced to develop a hard shell to cope with the issues she faces, always needing to guard her privacy and reputation. She makes mistakes – and that’s something everyone does – but the standards expected of her are considerably higher because of her role and position. You really feel for her, the rawness of her terror – the lies she tells to protect herself are entirely understandable, but have the most devastating consequences.
This was a quite wonderful read – original and contemporary, filled with tension and uncertainty, the characterisation and story-telling absolutely superb, the outcomes uncertain to the very end – and I recommend it really highly.
Praise for Reputation
‘Perceptive, elegant, thrilling and addictive. Reputation is further proof that Sarah Vaughan handles such important, timely issues with endless flair and compassion. I’m a huge fan’ Chris Whitaker, author of We Begin At The End
‘Both a terrifically entertaining courtroom drama and an unsettling cautionary tale for any woman aspiring to a career in politics, Reputation dives deep – and leaves the reader breathless. I loved it.’ Louise Candlish, author of The Heights
‘Intelligent, morally complex, with a burning sense of menace, Reputation is a chilling portrait of how a life can unfold through a series of incremental actions – one’s own, and other people’s. With a remarkable understanding of what it is to be a woman and a girl, the novel forces readers to consider the choices we make under pressure, and their potentially obliterative consequences. We are left with a single, haunting question: and what might we have done?’ Charlotte Philby, author of Part of the Family
‘A sharp, gripping and extremely timely exploration of the fear and misogyny every woman must deal with, but particularly those in the public eye’ Anna Mazzola, author of The Story Keeper
‘Timely, necessary, and gripping…with her trademark acuity and empathy, Sarah Vaughan skilfully dissects the pressures facing women in both public life and private while delivering an absolute nail-biter of a novel. It’s a must-read for 2022’ Gilly Macmillan, author of The Nanny
About the author
Brought up in Devon, Sarah Vaughan read English at Oxford and went on to become a journalist. After training at the Press Association, she spent eleven years at the Guardian as a news reporter, political correspondent and health correspondent, before leaving to freelance and write fiction.
Anatomy of a Scandal, her third novel was an instant international bestseller and translated into 22 languages, long-listed for the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year 2018 and short-listed for the Audible Sounds of Crime Award, GoodReads Jury’s Out award, French Elle’s Prix des Lectrices and Richard & Judy’s ‘Best of the Decade.’ Anatomy of a Scandal has been adapted for screen and will air on Netflix as a six-part series in Spring 2022. Little Disasters, her fourth novel, was selected as a Waterstones Thriller of the Month in 2021, has been sold to the US, France, Portugal, Sweden and Spain, and optioned for TV. Reputation is her fifth novel.