Source: Review copy
Publication: 3 March 2022 from Simon and Schuster
Reputation: it takes a lifetime to build and just one moment to destroy.
Emma Webster is a respectable MP.
Emma Webster is a devoted mother.
Emma Webster is innocent of the murder of a tabloid journalist.
Emma Webster is a liar.
#Reputation: The story you tell about yourself. And the lies others choose to believe…
I absolutely loved Anatomy of A Scandal and so reading Reputation was a must for me. Sarah Vaughan writes with an insider’s perspective on life in the Westminster village and she is excellent on the relationship between journalists and politicians, which is part of the story of Emma Webster and her Reputation.
Part thriller, part legal drama, Reputation is never less than tension filled and all consuming. I raced through it, heart often in my mouth as I recognised the all too awful reality that Vaughn portrays of what life is like for a woman MP, and – dare she become an outspoken MP – how much worse her life can become. The impact of social media trolls, keyboard warriors and bitter men all takes a terrible toll on the lives of not just these women but their families too.
We know a little of this from what has already happened to Jo Cox, but a death like this, whilst shocking and tragic is just one example of the way those in public life have their lives destroyed. The cost of going into politics for a woman is now almost intolerable and for young women who aspire to public service the impact of such behaviour is profound.
In a world where accepting ‘cancel culture’ seems to be becoming the norm, it is pertinent to consider how social media is sometimes poisoning the democratic well.
All of this, and traditional tabloid media too, plays into Sarah Vaughan’s brilliantly plotted, on point, high stakes courtroom drama. Here you will find all the rivalry of politicians; the sacrifices that they make to further their careers and the precautions that now have to be taken before even a simple surgery can be held.
The interplay between traditional media and politicians plays a key role as Emma Webster is charged with the murder of a tabloid journalist with whom she had worked on a campaign she was pioneering through Parliament; a campaign to protect women from the effects of online bullying.
Vaughan excels in highlighting the double standards that are applied to women. The glossy weekend mag photoshoot that Emma undertakes portrays her as a power dresser with that slash of red lipstick – the ultimate power woman it seems – but is this the real Emma Webster? And for those who read the interview, will they appreciate that Emma is a rounded, woman, mother and politician, or do they just see another target at whom they can take potshots, secure in the belief that the elected status of politicians makes them fair game?
Vaughan has produced a brilliantly paced, fascinating novel that deals not just with social media but also with the judgements we make every day based on what we read and hear; with misogyny of the most pernicious kind and of the sacrifices that women make all the time to try and stay safe whilst keeping their reputations intact. It’s a tightrope act that is always one step away from serious injury.
Verdict: If all that sounds worthy – it isn’t. This is a riveting, compelling read with great drama and some incredibly well thought through plotlines. Sarah Vaughan creates realistic three dimensional characters and believable situations and places them within the context of an immensely entertaining and thrilling read. This one will have you hooked all the way through. Highly recommended
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 and political correspondent before leaving to freelance and write fiction. Her first two novels, The Art of Baking Blind and The Farm at the Edge of the World, were followed by her first psychological thriller, Anatomy of a Scandal: a Sunday Times bestseller, and Richard & Judy pick of the decade, developed as a Netflix series starring Rupert Friend, Michelle Dockery and Sienna Miller. Her fourth novel, Little Disasters, a Waterstone’s thriller of the month, was published in 2020. Reputation is her fifth novel.
Photo © Phil Mynott