This book was not what I was expecting, which was a powerful courtroom drama. Instead it is an average read that was published at the right time, when sexual assaults among rich famous people, including inside the British parliament, were exposed and spurred the spread of the #metoo movement.
The actual trial is the most exciting part of the story, always pulling the reader along to see what turns up. None of it is original or unexpected and the focus is on the feelings of the prosecuting QC and the accused's wife. Sadly, the trial is short-lived. I have followed many significant real life trials over the years and have been in awe of the skills the barristers have utilised. Why are the fictionalised lawyers so uninspiring in this novel? Disappointing.
The rest of the story is set in the past when the central characters were students at Oxford. Although the author attended Oxford herself, the descriptions of the college and student life is thin. The antics in the club remind me of the film The Riot Club (2014) (based on the play Posh by Laura Wade) down to the finest detail, which I won't describe here as a spoiler.
However, what this flashback aspect draws attention to is the sense of entitlement that many wealthy people, especially men, have. This theme continues throughout the life of the central characters and leads to the crux of the story, which is a sexual entitlement incident. In the current climate, this book was so timely.
The characters are portrayed in tired old stereotypes and the writing is at times immature and embarrassing. So many people are 'bemused' and the attractive people have 'ludicrously long eyelashes', green eyes and long legs. Good grief. Fortunately this cringe factor dissipates during the last couple of chapters and has some notable and thought provoking quotes, such as: “It is hardwired into us that we should placate and mollify: bend our will to that of men.” The after-trial conclusion analyses the feelings of the wife and the QC, how they deal with humiliation and defeat and how they move on positively.
Quite definitely, the main skill of this novel is the timing of publication and attitudes of entitled powerful men.
Published by Simon and Schuster 11 January 2018.