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.