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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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Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
Unless Sheba is dependent on Barbara, Barbara will revert to the nobody she was before. Was Barbara in love with Sheba? Or desperate to have intimate friendship after a life of loneliness?
  Salsabrarian | Feb 2, 2016 |
I thought this book was very well written. The characters and their relationships to each other were well developed throughout adding a richness to the story. ( )
  LiteraryChanteuse | Jan 27, 2016 |
From the back cover: School teacher Barbara Covett has led a solitary life until Sheba Hart, the new art teacher at St George’s befriends her. But even as their relationship develops, so too does another: Sheba has begun an affair with an underage male student. When the scandal turns into a media circus, Barbara decides to write an account in her friend’s defense – and ends up revealing not only Sheba’s secrets but also her own.

My reactions
Wow. Told from Barbara’s perspective the story unfolds slowly as Barbara observes and records her impressions of the new art teacher. It is clear that Sheba is obsessed with the affair, emotionally stressed and not thinking straight. But the reader slowly becomes aware that Barbara is also emotionally damaged- equally obsessed with her friendship with Sheba and jealous of Sheba’s relationships with other teachers and even with her husband and children.

In the end, the more interesting psychological study is the portrayal of Barbara. What she reveals about herself in recording Sheba’s story is more subtle and interesting than the story she is trying to tell. She is dangerous woman to have as a “friend.”

I did think that Heller was a bit heavy-handed with the symbolism in these central character’s names. “Bathsheba” is bad enough, with all the implications of sexual misconduct, but “Covett”? Really? Still this is a minor irritation.

( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
Why do we raise our eyebrows at relationships between two people of markedly different ages? Why are we in such a hurry to classify certain romantic entanglements as being "exploitative", and can we ever be clear exactly who is exploiting whom anyway? These are just some of the questions you're likely to ask yourself while reading Notes on a Scandal.

On paper, this looks like a pretty cut-and-dried case: a 42-year-old married female teacher pursues a sexual relationship with a 15/16-year-old schoolboy. It's criminal behaviour, it draws forth both scorn and condemnation from the media, it ruins lives and taints reputations - but it's testament to Heller's writing skills that by the end of the novel you may well find yourself sympathising with the "criminal" Sheba Hart rather than the "victim" Steven Connolly. After all, the novel suggests, Connolly basically just has a rather enjoyable sexual experience and then gets on with his life; it is Sheba who suffers as a result, Sheba who must endure not only the pangs of lost love but the pain of a broken marriage, a destroyed reputation and an impending jail sentence.

The "notes on a scandal" of the title refers to the account of the affair written by Barbara Covett. Barbara is a fellow schoolteacher, a spinster who is atrociously lonely, and who is also - apparently - Sheba's most loyal friend. Barbara is the kind of woman - snide, snippy, and a self-righteous old gossip - who you'd avoid like the plague in real life, but actually as a narrator she's rather delightful company, digging right into the salacious heart of the scandal on behalf of the reader. She's curiously self-deluding on occasion, but at other times she manages to nail the people around her with such brilliant precision that you can't help but be impressed. She's wickedly funny, and at other times is heartrending as she constantly confronts the haunting fact of her own crushing loneliness. This, is turns out, is why she is so loyal to Sheba: she needs Sheba, she has to feel that she has someone giving meaning to her life, and she'll do just about anything to keep her. Sheba hands this extraordinary power to Barbara when she tells her about her affair with Connolly, and her confession proves to be something of an incendiary. Barbara can, depending on her mood, either put it quietly and safely to one side or light the fuse, put her fingers in her ears and stand well back ...

There are some faults with the novel, certainly: the character of Barbara comes perilously close to being a cliché (she even has a pet cat that she dotes on, just as stereotypical lonely old spinsters everywhere are said to have). Also, Steven is made to sound rather repulsive - he has no obvious attractions, either physically, mentally or personality-wise - so it's rather hard to understand why Sheba is even attracted to him, let alone so obsessed that she'll risk everything for his sake.


Still, those faults are more like minor niggles than fatal flaws. This is a compelling, quick read - I got through it in about three evenings, and couldn't wait to get home and pick it up again. By turns funny and grim, it will draw you in and make you question some of your assumptions. I don't think Heller expects you to draw any profound moral from it; it's more of a dissection of the dynamics and power-struggles of personal and sexual relations, and an examination of societal and personal responses to sexual scandals. Read and enjoy. ( )
  MariBiella | Dec 6, 2015 |
"This flimsy tale, this little psychological masterpiece, continues to disturb long after its last page." - Joanna Briscoe

Very addictive, quick read. Very good writing. Also, totally disturbing!
Loved it!! ( )
  KatDes | Nov 20, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zoë Hellerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Massey, AnnaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:00 -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)

» see all 11 descriptions

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