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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deliciously scandalous !
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...
Published on 1 Nov 2006 by charlotte_88

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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Shades of Ripley -- and more
"Notes on a Scandal" kept me engrossed during the two days it took me to finish it, but it didn't do much more for me than that. Both the Booker nomination and the all-round glowing reviews have therefore surprised me a little. In part, the book reminded me of "The Collector" by John Fowles, in which a mousy, isolated civil servant kidnaps a glamorous art student, or of...
Published on 2 Mar 2004 by kardra


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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deliciously scandalous !, 1 Nov 2006
This review is from: Notes on a Scandal (Paperback)
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
By 
OEJ - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Notes on a Scandal (Paperback)
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 "BookWorm" (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Notes on a Scandal (Paperback)
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
By 
mfl (london) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Notes on a Scandal (Paperback)
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Makes you think, 2 Mar 2004
This review is from: Notes on a Scandal (Hardcover)
A book that delves into the depths of human nature and the essence of sexuality. Issues such as age difference, gender, passion and social norms are explored and discussed. The storyline develops at a nice pace and you are drawn in to the perspective of the narrator. The main characters are both believable and interesting and the attention to detail is quite astonishing. I can congratulate the author on a fine piece of writing with an ending that really makes you think - ubfortunately you'll just have to read it as I don't want to give the game away!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unusual and memorable read, 22 Aug 2009
By 
Mrs. Katharine Kirby "Kate" (HELSTON, Cornwall United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Notes on a Scandal (Paperback)
Notes from my book club contribution - may be of interest of you are doing it too.

I was surprised at first to find ZoŽ Heller writing in the first person as a main character who is a sixty year old newly retired teacher. I am used to her lively modern articles in The Daily Telegraph. She showed great knowledge and sympathy with a Barbara who is seen to be leading a completely different life to the author herself, and this shows her terrific writing skills.

My favourite sort of novel. Not too many characters, modern setting, pacey writing. Great reading. Over too quickly. What happened to them all? Would Sheba have gone to prison. It was a sinister ending - menacing and scary - did Sheba go off to kill herself? What did she have to live for - she didn't value Barbara's devotion. Steve Connolly was then sixteen. Would he have been questioned or would his Mother have led the witch-hunt.

Brilliant portrayal of classroom/ staffroom life - as I have heard it described. The Head with all his Big Ideas and they way they were received. Bangs, the hopeless case and the rivalries for friendships amongst the staff. The experienced educator that Barbara was after forty years. Yet she found it awkward trying to talk to Polly.

The class distinctions throughout the book and the feelings that Barbara had about at last being around `posh people'. Are the upper class truly so uninhibited in their conversation? Sheba had never seen `three piece suite' in her life. Her Mother's inverted snobbery. On hearing that Richard now had a radiator in his study she commented "How grand! "Barbara felt she was living in a lifestyle magazine article when she was in the Hart's house. The contrast between Sheba's home life and Steve's life on the estate. How could she?! His bedroom; Mrs. Connolly's neat home. The smell of clean laundry when she "unpacked" Steve. An interesting description.

The age gap -40 to 15, 41 -16. Do the given rationales works? Prince Charles at 30+ marrying a 19 year old.. Reference to Germaine Greer's recent book "The Beauty of Boys".

Why was Sheba so obsessed with Steve? Did the writer get you to believe in the truth of this the central relationship? The unusual attraction was well explained and the reason why readers of the newspapers could work themselves up into a righteous fury about it because so few people would actually want such an experience. Her desperate phoning and cycling around trying to get him was understandable - I have seen this kind of behaviour at the end of an affair but not with a juvenile! When, as an outsider you are watching the end of a relationship why does the one who has been cast aside still act as if in shock and denial, still hoping? Sheba was still trying to telephone Steve long after it was obvious to Barbara and through her, the reader, that it was finished. Such as it was.
Was Barbara actually writing the truth? Sheba didn't seem to think so when she found the manuscript and read it all. Was Sheba all along a more earthy ordinary person than Barbara imagined her? Why did Sheba say that the manuscript was "filth and lies"? Why would Barbara be right anyway about Sheba -Barbara's narrow personal life and unusual lonely ways might not equip her to understand the whole situation - Sheba reacted angrily to criticism of Richard. The creepy postscript to Barbara's earlier "special friendship/relationship" with Jennifer. The way that Sheba happily teamed up with Sue and didn't judge people made her more open to experiences..

Was the winning of Sheba's exclusive companionship/friendship such a trophy after all for Barbara in the end?

The concept of childhood ending at 16 unlike other countries where 12 year old began an adult way of life. Children growing at a greater rate, developing earlier and earlier should we take notice of this in our definition of childhood and it's protective cage of legislation. Even in my youth 15 felt pretty grown up physically.

Reminded me so very much of The Remains of The Day. The Butler's voice in that is so like Barbara's. This is another book which is much concerned with class and everyone's position in it. Also the old fashioned correct way of speaking comes across as similar. ZoŽ Heller captures the older person's way of speaking and thinking very well, almost too well, Barbara comes across as even older than 60.

Poignant writing about living alone and real self sufficiency in the face of endless loneliness. The little treats for News Year Eve, bottle of sherry, re reading classics. The `stews' that Barbara worked herself up into with no one to calm her down. The death of Portia unhinging Barbara and freeing her from inhibition. Years of pet companionship.

The scene in Scotland with Sheba's Mother and the flash of inspiration with Polly's insight into her Mother's affair. Barbara felt relief that others had guessed what was happening. She had her concern about protecting herself from criticism for telling Bangs. But did that matter? She wasn't responsible for Sheba's behaviour. Should she have done more about it earlier? When a person does something generally seen as wrong and disgraceful - why does so much hinge on who "betrays' them with the blame being re loaded onto them. This often seems to happen. Why was the affair a "secret" when so many people knew about it. Even the boy's friends were in on the story and the letters were common currency. Stories like this would be the commerce of school life.

Sheba, the wonderful Mother to Ben especially, good wife and long suffering daughter but flawed by her unworldliness. She didn't drive, believing herself to be the kind of person that people naturally flock to help. It was spooky when she felt the presentiment - "I am now in the last few minutes of my old life" during the denouement with Steve's Mother.

The concept of Barbara as an Incubus- as picked up by Richard. Only brought up at the end but a terrific insight and creepy description. Such possessive friendships, staffroom friendship especially, what sort of circumstances do they thrive in - not in our lives really? Barbara refers to previous difficulties with members of staff in her first job, in a private school.

incubus n
1. a male demon that was believed in medieval times to have sexual intercourse with women while they were asleep
2. something that causes somebody much worry or anxiety, especially a nightmare or obsession (literary)

Was that good description of Barbara? Or is there another word for her. Parasite? Sycophant? Thrill seeker? Lesbian? Perhaps it was more about power over another. Who will make sure she showers every day? The Prison Officers I expect!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars friendship turned obsessive�, 20 July 2005
This review is from: Notes on a Scandal (Paperback)
History teacher Barbara Covell doesn't have much of a life of her own. Although she'd never admit it, she is desperately lonely. But then relatively bohemian Sheba Hart joins the staff at her school and befriends her.
But Sheba is not an innocent... she is found having an affair with one of her underage pupils. But even then Barbara is willing to accept that Sheba is simply naÔve and takes it upon herself to take control and stand up for her friend. She wants to be the ultimate friend in need ... why can't Sheba appreciate that? Why won't she simply let her take over and make everything right? Why is she once again being scorned?
This is a story of hidden agendas, ulterior motives, malice and of 'friendship' turning into obsession. It is dark, chilling, well-paced and hard to put down.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark, funny, entertaining, 5 Jan 2005
By 
Mamai (Beaverton Or.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Notes on a Scandal (Paperback)
A story of a scandalous affair between a pottery teacher and a pupil in school narrated by Barbara,a dark spinster with a dangerous need to feel important and central to someones life, even if in the end she ultimately ruins that life.
Very well told story without salacious details that moves easily and quickly to an open ending. Worth a read.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm a bloke and I liked it, 16 Sep 2004
By 
OEJ - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Notes on a Scandal (Paperback)
I ordered this book on the basis of its award nomination, having no idea of its subject matter. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, and it won't be for those who like murder mysteries or thrillers - but I liked it from the 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 yet with a good deal of tragic humour as well. I must have completed two-thirds of the book before I realised that the central character wasn't the woman at the heart of the scandal, 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.
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Notes on a Scandal
Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller (Hardcover - 5 Jun 2003)
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