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on 21 March 2018
It always disappoints me when I read a book that doesn't stand up to it's film adaptation.

Notes On A Scandal doesn't cut it. The characters feel watered down. Barbara Covett in the film is a hateful schemer, who hatches her plan from the beginning. I understand her motives and hating her and cringing at her is a part of the fun of her character. Whereas in the book i am finding it hard to believe her capable of malice. It seems to me that it was a coincidence what happened and that her big reveal to Bangs was actually an accident. Sorry, but I prefer to hate this character. It is far more powerful to think that Barbara schemed the whole thing up. The withered lesbian wanted company in her old age. Even her name says it all, Barbara Covett! It's brilliant! Barbra however, did not covet and the author never makes her intentions clear. It is confusing.

I found the writing style tedious. Zoe Heller drones on and on in the voice of Barbra, for sometimes pages at a time, and her droning neither adds to plot nor my understanding of the character. I really felt for Sheba in the film and I got her motivations. In the book, I thought she was pathetic, greedy and stupid. She blithely goes about this affair with Steven Connelly with little care for the consequences, unlike the deep and thoughtful screen counterpart. It just didn't make for good reading. When I read I want to understand and feel for the characters and I was disappointed in them and at worst, bored.

I don't like that Notes On A Scandal isn't told chronologically. The big reveal happens right at the beginning of the book and all the details are filled in afterwards. Sometimes this works, but in this case, chronological and a building up to the consequences would have been far more powerful. It's like Goldfinger playing cards at the beginning of Goldfinger. Sorry, but you've already weakened him. Why would I care about anything else he does? The same thing goes here. If I know there are no major consequences for Sheba from the off, then why would I bother reading any further? There's nothing more to learn.

I feel as though the author had an idea of the kind of book she wanted to write but didn't know how to execute it. Perhaps she had read a newspaper article about a similar case and she wanted to emulate it? Writing a novel is hard and takes a lot of time and planning to get it right. Perhaps if she had had harsher publishers or was more self-critical, she could have done a better of job of what is a fantastic story idea. I feel as though I have learnt nothing from reading Notes On A scandal and it hasn't changed or made me see things any differently to how I did before. Books are meant to make us question our reality and how did this make me question mine? I wondered to myself how better I might have spent my time than by reading it.

Overall I found Notes On A Scandal disappointing.
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on 6 September 2016
The book was chosen for a couple of reasons: Firstly, it was the next book that my book group had chosen to read. Secondly, I had seen the film a couple of years ago, and wanted to see how it would compare with the book. The film was excellent and contained a couple of my favourite actors (Judi Dench and Bill Nighy). The book was also excellent but differed from the film (as could only be expected). As I had seen the film first, I could easily picture Judi Dench as Barbara - she was pefectly cast. In the book, the character of Barbara was much darker and more menacing than portrayed in the film. Actually, the whole book was much darker than I thought it would be - but it is still a cracking read. Considering the subject matter (female teacher has affair with student) the book did not focus on the intimate details of the relationship. Although the sexual relationship was alluded to, you did not have to wade through pages of description of what the couple were up to (if you see what I mean); I was thankful for that as the story could progress at a good pace without interruption. The characters were well-drawn and believable. Sheba knows that what she is doing is wrong, but is still determined to carry on no matter what the cost. Barbara adores Sheba and conspires to protect her once the storm has broken. The whole book is told from Barbara's, rather than Sheba's, point of view. This makes interesting reading. This book is a change from what I would normally read, and I am glad that I chose it
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on 5 November 2016
What a bizarre novel.

Having watched a little of the film adaptation, I was curious as to whether the book would be worth my time. I picked up a gorgeous Penguin edition (I have a soft spot for their covers; they really are quite lovely) and proceeded to get stuck in.

And I have to admit, it is an engaging read. Barbara’s spiteful, snobbish narrative makes for an intriguing protagonist, and more than once I was left feeling both amused and exasperated by her words and her actions. Sheba, too, is a ridiculous character – but she left me with little amusement and far more exasperation than Barbara. Sheba is, in short, an idiot. That was the only word that kept ringing in my mind over and over. I didn’t like her, and I liked her teenage daughter even less.

Notes On A Scandal is a clever tackling of an often taboo subject, but there was nothing in the novel that made me go wow. The writing is easy to follow, and the characters realistic, but nothing really grasped me. I read it in one sitting, but I can blame that purely on the short length of the novel rather than the gripping narrative. It is engaging, but not spellbinding. Barbara and Sheba’s symbiotic relationship – more and more evident as the tale progresses – is somewhat sickening by the end of the book, and perhaps character building is the novel’s strength. But in terms of plot, I wasn’t thrilled.

If you like reading books on supposed taboo subjects, then you might like this. Otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend it. It left me with an unsatisfied feeling, and I won’t be rereading it.
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on 31 July 2016
Comparisons with the film are inevitable with this book, for there are subtle differences. Put together, the two make for a very interesting contemporary experience

Barbara, a repressed lesbian (who was played by Judi Dench) writes the narrative. She is a schoolteacher with a very condescending view of everybody. With the novel, the reader can enjoy more seeing what is going on through Barbara's mind.

Sheba (played by Cate Blanchett in the film) is the object of Barbara's affection, yet she does not seek her in a romantic way, but observes carefully, and is disappointed when the married Sheba begins an affair with Connely, a pupil at the school.

Naturally, the scandal eventually breaks, but it is here where the book and film differentiate the most, with an ending that is different.

An excellent novel by Zoe Heller, who creates a wonderful character in Barbara.
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on 18 December 2015
Terrific book. Easy reading but full of insight. The 'affair' took me right back to the 70s, of kissing spotty, sweaty boys in bedrooms with nylon carpets. But Heller goes well beyond effectively recreating a feeling: she is an exemplar of the first rule of storytelling, "Show, don't tell". She doesn't tell us that the older woman is a cow; we come to our own conclusions, based on what the character says, does and thinks, and some of what was going on in her head made me laugh out loud in recognition. But as the best books do, this one taught me something and made me realise that I never want to turn into a bitter, judgmental old woman so had better start being nice to people!
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VINE VOICEon 19 August 2009
The CD is read by Anna Massey, whose voice, while sometimes a bit upper crust and annoying, is totally suited to the part of Barbara as narrator. The cloying, patronising character of this 60 something teacher oozes out of the speakers as she tells the story of her much younger teacher friend, Sheba.
Sheba is a pottery teacher with an uninspiring home life, who falls for the whiles of 15 yr old Connolly when he does little more than show an interest in art. We know from the start that this is all going to end in tears, the question is just how and when.
I enjoyed the insight into the staff room squabbles and interactions but the strength of this story is the way it is told by Barbara, who then becomes as much a character in the tale as Sheba is.
Cleverly done. I may well read the book at a later date.
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on 25 August 2007
I read this book within 24 hours. I found it totally absorbing and it is not often when reading books that you can really feel the emotion as if it were your own.

I found that although Barbara comes across as bitter and holds herself in a superior stance, you can't help but feel sympathy for her charachter. This shows real writing talent in my opinion.

Some reviews on this site say that Sheba comes across as stupid or silly, but I think that could be intentional in that Barbara who is describing the events, does so with a superior air. This I think, makes Sheba sound like a bit of an air-head at times, but more likely Barbara's opinion of her than how she really is.

By the end of the book, Barbara has got a real hold over Sheba which is really chilling but in general I think the ending holds together well.
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on 14 May 2014
Reviewing the book not the film as some people seem to do. I enjoyed this immensely, found all the characters believable and also the situation for Sheba rang true as we so often hear of real life stories where teacher has decided to extend the lesson in private! Barbara seemed to be a dried up prune but I guess she'd gone in the menopause and come out the other side never knowing the kind of exciting forbidden time Sheba was having, and I don't mean with a minor before you think I approve.
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on 28 June 2013
For me this was an idea that went nowhere. It is well written and readable, but I found the semi-comical tone slightly annoying. The most interesting aspect is the personality of the narrator, but that doesn't progress much during the course of the story. A few weeks after reading it, I can't remember much detail from the book, so I can't honestly recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon 11 April 2008
Sheba Hart is weak - she's let everyone manipulate her; her older husband, her horrid teenage daughter, her ghastly mother. So when one of her pupils pays her too much attention, she basks in it and then takes it too far. But more chilling is her 'friendship' with Barbara - an older woman teacher, who is desperate for attention herself. Barbara moves from friend to confidante and trusted ally, then betrayer and finally mother-figure and jailor. A truly awful character.
A great read. Brilliant writing in which every word counts in its 244 pages (hardback). Refreshing in an era of doorstops!
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