When something goes wrong, I first consider the possibility that the reason it went wrong is because of me. It isn’t that I take the blame for everything, but I stop myself to consider my part in what happened and whether that was where things went awry. I trained myself to do this for a few reasons. On one hand, I think it is important to reflect on the part one plays in situations and I don’t think that is a practice that is valued highly enough in this day and age and, on the other, it saves a whole lotta face vs the opposite approach of denying any responsibility and blindly blaming someone else only to find out that, no, actually, you did miss that email or forget the deadline or whatever.
I bring this up because partway through reading Reputation by Sarah Vaughan, I started to wonder if I was the problem. Were my expectations too high? Was I misreading the tempo of the storytelling? Am I too emotionally closed off to feel connected to these characters?
I turned to other reviews to try to gauge how much my halfway point stall was due to my own dysfunction or whether others felt the same. As always, my investigation landed right in the middle. It’s possible that I was part of the problem, but it’s also arguable that I had a normal response. A real fence sitter.
I want to start with the good parts of Reputation because, to be very clear, this is not a bad book in any way. It’s a thriller (I know, I know, right after saying that female psychological thrillers are not my cup of tea, I went on to read another and now this one) and I was intrigued by its reflection on and contemplation of the far reaching impacts of reputation and, particularly, from a feminist perspective.
As a politician, Emma has sacrificed a great deal for her career—including her marriage and her relationship with her daughter, Flora.
A former teacher, the glare of the spotlight is unnerving for Emma, particularly when it leads to countless insults, threats, and trolling as she tries to work in the public eye. As a woman, she knows her reputation is worth its weight in gold but as a politician, she discovers it only takes one slip-up to destroy it completely.
Fourteen-year-old Flora is learning the same hard lessons at school as she encounters heartless bullying. When another teenager takes her own life, Emma lobbies for a new law to protect women and girls from the effects of online abuse. Now, Emma and Flora find their personal lives uncomfortably intersected…but then the unthinkable happens.
A man is found dead in Emma’s home. A man she had every reason to be afraid of and to want gone. Fighting to protect her reputation, and determined to protect her family at all costs, Emma is pushed to the limits as the worst happens and her life is torn apart.
What is true of this story is that all the female characters have some part of their own reputations that they are trying to outrun. From the teenager through the adult women, all have to be concerned about the far reaching consequences of their actions and the lasting impacts that come with them. Of course we should be responsible for our actions, but this book exceeds that, showing instead how we can be at the mercy of men’s experiences and expectations of who we are. A common reflection in this book is the social media perceptions and resulting abuse hurled toward Emma, the unapologetic protagonist. By standing strong in her beliefs and positions, she becomes a target of people she knows and people she doesn’t. Her position and her privilege afford her opportunities to set the record straight or get retribution on some of her own reputation, but that isn’t the same for all women.
My only criticism, and the part that had me second guessing my ability to read it was that it moved very slowly at times. The characters were well developed enough, but the storytelling seemed to get stuck on intricate and extensive details that didn’t always appear to be necessary.
All in all, Reputation will be an enjoyable read for anyone interested in a feminist thriller with roots in real life.
Reputation is being published on July 5th. Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada and Netgalley for putting an advanced copy in my hands.