Notes on a Scandal Paperback – 4 Mar 2004
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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.
"An intense, witty, literary page-turner"--"Entertainment Weekly" "Equally adroit at satire and at psychological suspense, Zoe Heller charts the course of a predatory friendship and demonstrates the lengths to which some people go for human company."--"The New Yorker" "A deliciously perverse, laugh-out-loud-funny novel."--"Vogue" "A triumph of intelligence and narrative control."--"The Times" (London) "Heller is a great ventriloquist of character, and as the unhinged curator of the Sheba affair, Barbara is painfully note perfect."--"The Washington Post Book World" "Wicked and wonderful social satire."--"Glamour" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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 !
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Although this short novel deals with a heavy subject (an affair between a female teacher and a 15-year-old boy), the treatment is light-hearted and at that level the story works: I... Read morePublished 13 days ago by Phil O'Sofa
Sheba has achieved notoriety as a teacher who seduced one of her male students, leading to a lengthy affair. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Joy Isabella
I usually steer clear of books written by women; I'm not saying they are bad writers, but they do things in a different way. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Jonathan A Hesford
This is absorbing stuff, both here and on film (although I see the film alters the ending). The writer carries you along wondering where she will go with it and the ending is... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Flossieraptor
Beautifully written I read this book in two days, really enjoyable - fascinating storyline, a teacher falling for her student. Read morePublished 11 months ago by sammie