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Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller
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Notes on a Scandal (2003)

by Zoë Heller

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2,414672,573 (3.62)161
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“But about the drip drip of long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing. They don't know what it is to construct an entire weekend around a visit to the laundrette."

This was a surprisingly multi-layered book. Initially thinking that this is a novel about tabloid titillation concerning an affair between a middle aged,mother of two,teacher and one of her male pupils it becomes so much more, a critique on class and loneliness which then turns to stalker-ism.

Bathsheba Hart is a middle class 41 year old woman of beauty who starts work as a pottery teacher in a London comprehensive turning male heads as she does so but whilst her male colleagues merely admire from a distance 15 year old Steven Connolly,the son of a taxi driver living on a local council estate, who makes his move thus starting an affair between the two. However, the story of the affair is not revealed by one of the participants but by Barbara Collett,a sixty year old spinster and history teacher who befriends Sheba.Barbara's life is empty shared only with an ageing cat who begins to live her life through Sheba, revelling in the latter's rolls behind the pottery kiln and al fresco sex on Hampstead Heath with Steven marking so much so that when she decides to write down an account of the affair she marks every significant event with a gold star. Sheba is married to a controlling man 20 years her elder and has a frosty relationship with her own mother and 17 year old daughter, who when forced to make decisions for herself generally seems to make poor ones regressing to a love-sick teenager,mooning outside Steven's bedroom window,ringing him late at night and becoming ever more desperate as the affair begins to wane.When news of the affair becomes public and the daily press begin to report its more lurid details Barbara takes on the mantle of self-proclaimed guardian and spokesperson of the poor sinner who is shunned by her own family thus cementing her control over Sheba, a prospect that she seems to relish.

On the whole the novel's language is crisp and sparing and not without an element of pathos that it is not hard to note that Heller's background is in journalism.Generally I felt that all the characters were well written.

In the past I've read both Lolita and Death in Venice where I've felt sorry for the young victim but in this case I certainly fail to feel that Steven was in any way harmed by having an affair with an older,more experienced woman in fact part of me couldn't help thinking, lucky sod! This double standard is actually remarked upon within the book so is not perhaps that surprising really but it still feels odd to have a woman make the point. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Nov 26, 2014 |
Really enjoyed this one & liked the film as well. Donating as clearing bookshelves for move. ( )
  anissaannalise | Jan 1, 2014 |
Offered to the Oz VBB November 2013
  livrecache | Nov 12, 2013 |
Another well overdue book from my TBR and I have to ask myself why it took me so long to pick it up. I haven't seen the film version but I do know it stars Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench. And on reading Barbara's narrative I could 'hear' Judi Dench's voice in my head.

I really enjoyed this book, well written with some great descriptions. I particularly liked the use of the word 'incubus' when an angry Sheba told Barbara what her husband had said about her. That word stuck with me, a strong accusation but perhaps correct to an extent. The author leaves it up to the reader to decide what the outcome of the situation will be. Both with the impending court case and the future of Barbara and Sheba's friendship.

Let's look at Barbara first: Here is a woman who worms her way into the life of those she presumes to be weak. A predator, who dominates and in a less obvious way bullies. Someone who becomes a subversive friend, attaches like a leech before you realise that you really want to get rid of them. Can you identify with that? I'm sure you can from somewhere in your life. We get a glimpse of this Barbara when she refers to her previous friendship with Jenny who cuts her out completely. Barbara is hurt but doesn't see what she is doing in these relationships, smothering her friends. A spinster teacher with no external interests in life other than her cat.

Moving on to Sheba: Sheba has gone into teaching later in life after bringing up her family. She has a trying relationship with her mother and is the daughter of a renowned father. Sheba married young, much to her mother's upset but adding to this upset by marrying a man much older than herself. Her husband is wrapped up in his own career and you are left with the view that Sheba feels a tad neglected. She starts her new teaching post and has trouble holding the classes under control. She is shown some interest by a younger pupil, is flattered and responds to his charms. What struck me about Sheba is her lack of self control. She knew her actions were wrong but she did nothing to put a stop to it or made half hearted attempts in the beginning. We see her as weak and she is certainly in the eyes of Barbara. Yet, Sheba does have strengths.

I am not sure if I want to see the film. More often than not, film adaptations do not live up to the written word. The storyline is uncomfortable as it discusses abuse of trust, sexual relationship between teacher and pupil, friendship, marriage and much more. Blanchett and Dench are both formidable actresses and I am sure gave their roles justice.

You may not like the subject matter but the book is well worth reading and I highly recommend it. ( )
  booketta | Aug 23, 2013 |
Really excellent stuff, which I shouldn't have sneered at ten years ago. (Nonetheless, after a while of seeing it everywhere, I'd bought a copy because I thought I ought to.)

The narrative is theatrical in the best possible way: though realist, this is obviously a story (I hardly ever even thought to nitpick), and a very well told, engrossing story it is too. The “twist” is entirely natural and plausible unlike so many plot points given that name in plenty of other books.

For a long time I assumed Notes on a Scandal would be full of cheap tabloid moralising, until the opinions of a few people on here persuaded me otherwise. Barbara and Sheba are pleasingly “unacceptable”, I always found them understandable, and therefore in a way likeable, perhaps more often than they were intended to be.

Read 12 August 2013. ( )
  antonomasia | Aug 15, 2013 |
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For Larry and Frankie
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March 1, 1998
The other night, at dinner, Sheba talked about the first time that she and the Connolly boy kissed. (Foreword)
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Originally published in the UK and elsewhere under the title Notes on a Scandal, this book was also released in the USA under the titles What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal and then Notes on a Scandal: What Was She Thinking?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141012250, Paperback)

When the new teacher first arrives, Barbara immediately senses that this woman will be different from the rest of her staff-room colleagues. But Barbara is not the only one to feel that Sheba is special, and before too long Sheba is involved in an illicit affair with a pupil. Barbara finds the relationship abhorrent, of course, but she is the only adult in whom Sheba can properly confide. So when the liaison is found out and Sheba's life falls apart, Barbara is there...

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:49 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

When Sheba Hart joins St George's as the new pottery teacher, lonely Barbara Covett senses that she has found a kindred spirit. But Barbara is not the only one drawn to Sheba. Before long Sheba is involved in an illicit affair with a pupil. Barbara is powerless to stop Sheba from pursuing her foolhardy course of action. But when the liaison is found out and Sheba's marriage falls apart, Barbara is loyally standing by, ready to provide succour.… (more)

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Editions: 0141039957, 024195455X

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