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Notes on a Scandal [Paperback]

ZoŽ Heller
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 May 2009

Shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize, Zoë Heller's Notes on a Scandal is a darkly compelling novel that explores the taboo subject of pupil/teacher relationships, obsession and betrayal.

From the first day that the beguiling Sheba Hart joins the staff of St George's history teacher Barbara Covett is convinced she has found a kindred spirit. Barbara's loyalty to her new friend is passionate and unstinting and when Sheba is discovered having an illicit affair with one of her pupils, Barbara quickly elects herself as Sheba's chief defender. But all is not as it first seems in this dark story and, as Sheba will soon discover, a friend can be just as treacherous as any lover.

'Brilliant, nasty, gripping' Zadie Smith

'Compelling, dark, sexy' Observer

'Superbly gripping. One of the most compelling books I've read in ages' Daily Telegraph

'Deliciously sinister' Daily Mail

Zoë Heller is the author of three novels, Everything You Know, Notes on a Scandal, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003 and The Believers. The 2006 film adaptation of Notes on a Scandal, starring Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench, received four Oscar nominations. She lives in New York.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Reissue edition (7 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141039957
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141039954
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 13 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 487,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Zoë Heller is the author of three novels: Everything You Know; Notes on a Scandal, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003; and The Believers.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Zoe Heller juggles journalism and novel-writing successfully in Notes on a Scandal and manages to say something interesting and complex about moral panics and the people who get caught up in them.

Pottery teacher Sheba lets herself be talked into an affair with 15-year-old pupil Connolly; part of what is admirable about this novel is that there is no real attempt to extenuate this--it's wrong and she knows this from the start, enough to lie to herself and others about it. It's an abuse of her very limited power--he is one of the few of her pupils interested in art, not interested in perpetually disrupting her lessons.

Sheba is not alone in abusing power, though, and Heller forces us to confront this unpleasant truth about the moralising, managerial headmaster, the husband freed by Sheba's action to seduce his own very slightly older students, and the relatives who never liked her much and can now disown her. Above all, she devotes most of the novel to Barbara, the older colleague who becomes Sheba's confidante and slowly manipulates the situation to make Sheba entirely dependent on her. This is a brilliantly gloomy study in obsession--and the obsession in question is not actually Sheba's with her underage lover. --Roz Kaveney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Fascinating, brilliant, horribly addictive (Guardian)

Outstanding, brilliantly understated and blackly funny (Daily Telegraph)

Brilliant, nasty, gripping (Zadie Smith Observer)

Deliciously sinister (Daily Mail)

Compelling, dark, sexy (Observer)

Deliciously perverse, laugh-out-loud-funny (Vogue)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deliciously scandalous ! 1 Nov 2006
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - it is gripping and easy to read. Pick it up and you won't put it down until you've finished it - it's that engaging.

Zoe Heller has drawn two very interesting, complex protagonists in her character-driven drama, with its issues of loneliness, family and sexuality driving the prose. Heller is interested in the psychology of those issues, and she has considered their implications to great effect through her characters.

My only real gripe would be that occasionally it felt like the author prioritised brevity at the expense of backround and detail in order to make this a very tight, well-paced read. Perhaps this was down to her journalistic backround editing her a little over-zealously. But really this is a compliment because I could have happliy continued had there been another 200 pages !

Highly recommended.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm a bloke and I liked it 7 Jan 2007
A tale about two very different female high-school teachers, one old and frumpy, the other young and attractive. The frumpy one becomes obsessed with her observations of the new young teacher, who gets involved in a scandal that could ruin her career.

I ordered and read this book back in 2004 on the basis of its MAN Booker award nomination, having no idea of its subject matter. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, and it might not be for those who, like me, usually buy murder mysteries or crime thrillers - but I liked it from the very beginning and by the end, I loved it. Zoe Heller has a real talent for character development, and manages to portray the self-denied loneliness of a sixty-something spinster/schoolteacher in a sensitive and non-condescending manner in combination with a good deal of tragic humour as well. I must have completed two-thirds of the book before I realised that it wasn't the woman at the heart of the scandal who was the central character, but her note-maker and grateful friend who tells the story itself. The personalities of both women are artfully and painstakingly developed, along with their working colleagues and families, and for this reason I strongly recommend Notes on a Scandal as an education for other writers on how to tell a story with characters who readers can totally believe in. An astute observation on the trials and tribulations of the lonely, this book deserves its prize nomination and gets my strong recommendation.

In 2007 the story was released as a film, which I have seen twice. It's hard to imagine anyone other than Judi Dench in the role of the elderly spinster and notemaker - she was just perfect. For once, this was a film that managed to pretty much equal the high standards of the novel on which it was based.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars sinister storytelling 24 Sep 2003
By A Customer
Zoe Heller's novel about a slightly absent-minded teacher having an affair with her young pupil takes a sinister tone from the start. Told through her 'ever so devoted' best friend we discover a woman who has become the obsession of her doting carer. Heller flawlessly reveals Barbara's obsession through dark and very observational humour. This is a literary Single White Female with the narrator as a lonely old bitter, jealous and sinister woman living vicariously through her friend, taking advantage of her situation with chilling overtones that makes you really believe that she is sitting at night rocking and wearing her friend's clothes. Excellently written, very funny, dark with twinges of scary. Highly recommended as a very believable account of an obsessive woman and her strange life!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, though with some flaws 25 Mar 2007
By BookWorm TOP 500 REVIEWER
A well written story, focussing on the theme of obsession. The narrator, Barbara, is a lonely, unmarried school teacher, who becomes fixated on a younger teacher at her school, Sheba. Sheba is wealthy and married with children, but embarks upon an affair with one of her 15 year old pupils. Barbara narrates the story of the affair, her friendship with Sheba, and the consequences.

The story is well written, with a good turn of phrase, and nice descriptions. It was easy to read and reasonably gripping. The characters were interesting and flawed, although perhaps not entirely convincing, particularly Sheba, who seems unbelievably stupid. Barbara is a better character. The exploration of obsession was well executed and gave no easy answers. The undertone of subtle malice throughout was nicely done and the book did leave me feeling slightly unsettled.

Plot wise, it was a little disappointing and not entirely without holes. I had hoped for a more gripping conclusion. It was just too hard to sympathise with Sheba, which made the denouement less exciting for me. The earlier parts of the story hung together better than the later parts, where I got the feeling that things hadn't been so well thought through.

On the whole, this was an interesting book and well written enough to be worth reading, despite some flaws.
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61 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars single white female 5 April 2004
Notes on a scandal is a clever book. Be ready for something slightly different that will drag you in, slowly become addictive and then race you along on a rollercoaster ride of obsession, lust and misplaced loyalty.
Ostensibly it's a novel about a rookie pottery class schoolteacher Sheba joining a north London comprehensive with high ideals but no sense of distance or discipline to her pupils. With a family life of older husband, troublesome teenage daughter and down's syndrome son, she's lost a little of the spark and romance in her life. What once independence was, is left clinging to her hippy dress sense and cycling to work. Sheba needs to make a difference. And so she is easily swayed by an illiterate pupil with a modicum of artist desire and an overwhelming crush on Miss.
But no, this is not what Notes on a scandal is all about. Narrated by Barbara, Sheba's 60 year old teacher colleague, this is a sly diary peek into Barbara's take on the affair and Barbara's world. A disturbing one dimensional slant on Sheba's story and ultimately Barbara's lonely spinstered life.
Notes on a scandal is an exceptional book for the detail and insight into Barbara, who at first, we think to trust and then learn to either despise or feel wholly sad for her prejudiced, narrow and emotionless existence. Barbara craves comfort and love, she needs people to rely on her, she manipulates because she is emotionally bereft. This is what makes the novel so unerringly clever and devious, for we really cannot believe all we are reading about Sheba's plight from Barbara's barbarous interpretation.
Notes on a scandal is witty, cunningly observational about relationships and a stark insight into a warped mind. A great read that'll stay with you for some time. Notes on a scandal II - the Sheba story, would be even more enticing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Purchased as a present
Published 11 days ago by Peter White
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
excellent choice, quality and delivery
Published 13 days ago by christine stewart
5.0 out of 5 stars Late, but worth the wait!
Took a long while to come, the day after the lastest derlivery date. However, when it did come in was wonderfully wrapped and in an excellent condition! Read more
Published 3 months ago by Danielle Honey
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating
Sheba Hart, hailing from a well-to-do family from north London, married too young and to an older man, and she devoted the better part of her life to her two children, one of them... Read more
Published 4 months ago by reader 451
2.0 out of 5 stars Great screenplay from an average novel
I saw the film of this, then bought the book. It just highlighted what a great job Patrick Marber did on the screenplay.
Published 7 months ago by A. Mackay
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, thought-provoking, brilliant
I'd seen the film so had an idea of the main narrative thrust, but blimey this book grabs you from the very first paragraph! Read more
Published 10 months ago by A. Thomas
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book
Loved this book. I'd already watched the film, which I thought had a far weaker ending. The book's ending is quite different.
Published 10 months ago by Tansy
5.0 out of 5 stars Good :)
This book is exactly what I wanted! It's a great read and I'd definitely recommend it to another buyer. :)
Published 11 months ago by Ria
5.0 out of 5 stars A well rounded picture of the intricacies of obsession
In Notes On A Scandal, respected but lonely teacher Barbara hopes that with the arrival of new art teacher Bathsheba she may have finally found a "Kindred Spirit" and hopes they... Read more
Published 14 months ago by R. A. Davison
4.0 out of 5 stars accurate
Sheba has a relationship with Connolly, one of her pupils. There was a time when a teenage boy having an older woman was seen as an achievement, though if the ages and genders are... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Mr. D. P. Jay
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