Sarah Vaughan’s Reputation takes a look at the life of British MP, Emma Webster, a divorced woman in her 40s who makes a number of bad decisions. When the book opens, we know that something very bad has taken place, and then Emma goes back through her recent past to the moment when things started to go wrong in her world. Emma pinpoints the first bad decision, the one “that started everything,” as the magazine photo shoot in which she is swayed by flattery and the presence of a male photographer to assume an aggressive, sexy posture.
Was I subliminally so desperate for male admiration? At forty-four, so conscious of becoming sexually invisible that, despite everything I stood for, I let myself be flattered by and play up to his uncompromisingly male gaze?
This scene sets the stage for all that is about to go wrong in Emma’s life, plus it reveals her Achilles’ heel. Politicians seem to fall on their own petards–most commonly a sex scandal petard. Politicians are not unique in their embroilment in sex scandals, but since there are journos watching, participants who may sell their stories, and enemies lurking in the shadows, there’s a good chance that the secrets of politicians will be exposed. Political sex scandals are highly leakable and who doesn’t like to read about a good, meaty sex scandal?
Since Emma’s divorce, the family home was sold and Emma now lives with two other female MPs. Emma shares custody of her daughter, Flora, with her ex. Meanwhile Emma’s ex, David, seems to be flourishing with his second wife Caroline, who was Flora’s piano teacher, no less.
Caroline, who had encouraged me to stand as a politician, then moved with alacrity to fill my space once I got into office.
A veritable viper in the bosom. David, with his new wife, has had a make-over, he’s fitter, lost weight, and sports a beard while Emma. … well she’s marching on and ploughing herself into her political work. The fact that David’s appearance has improved may partly explain why Emma is flattered into presenting the ‘sexy’ side of herself to the public through the magazine spread. Not, as it turns out, a good decision.
I liked the way we see Emma’s reaction to the new David–it must be a bit of a ego blow to see one’s former spouse dusted off, spruced up and flourishing in another relationship. Emma is not a particularly appealing character–this may possibly be because Emma really has no idea who she is, and while she is passionate about one political cause, Revenge Porn, she is a rather typical politician when it comes to issues that don’t fit her agenda (veteran’s mental health). Now there is no law against stupidity and Emma makes some really stupid decisions. Emma’s stupid decisions work plot-wise as the author laid the groundwork to make those decisions plausible, but still, I found it hard to care one way or another what happened to Emma–the loose cannon on the political payroll. The story unfolds through Emma’s eyes and is punctuated with vicious, reductive social media comments. How pathetic that worlds begin and end with the largely unaccountable actions of social media gladiators.