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Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
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Notes on a Scandal (original 2003; edition 2006)

by Zoe Heller

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,708883,242 (3.63)185
Member:Simone2
Title:Notes on a Scandal
Authors:Zoe Heller
Info:Picador (2006), Paperback, 258 pages
Collections:Booker, English (inactive), 2005
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Booker Prize Shortlist, Adultery, Obsession, College

Work details

Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller (2003)

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» See also 185 mentions

English (86)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (89)
Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
Barbara, a cranky spinster tells the story of her fellow teacher, Sheba, who has an affair with her underaged student. The unreliable narrator reminded me so much of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Both have an unhealthy obsession with someone else and an inflated sense of their importance. It’s a well-written page turner. I did want to smack Sheba in the face because of her bad decisions.

“You never appreciate what a compost your memory is until you start trying to smooth the past events into a rational sequence.” ( )
  bookworm12 | Feb 24, 2019 |
While the story does deal with an inappropriate relationship between a teacher and a student, Sheba’s relationship with young Connelly really only plays a peripheral role. Told from the point of view of Barbara – don’t call her Barb, and never call her ‘Babs” – this is a story with strong themes of power/control and how appearances can be deceiving. Now, some readers may call Barbara an old, miserable spinster, but I prefer the term “crusty” to describe her jaded outlook on life. Barbara leads a rather lonely life, eschewing relationships in preference for observing and passing judgement from the sidelines, so for Barbara to decide to become friends with the younger, more effervescent and (as we learn) powerless Sheba, you know something just isn’t quite on the “up and up”. While this story does not have an outright sinister vibe, Barbara’s manipulations of Sheba and her observations of events, result in a salient, compelling portrait of lopsided, deteriorating relationships. Sadly, the story left some unanswered questions for me - like why Barbara decided to take care of Sheba when she could have just cast her off like an old sweater - so, the end result for me is an interesting read that left me somewhat unsatisfied at the end, even though I did enjoy discovering that Heller is a writer who's writing style has been influenced by the likes of Muriel Spark. ( )
  lkernagh | Nov 29, 2018 |
Really enjoyed this book on a slightly guilty voyeuristic way. The narrator is totally unreliable and thoroughly unlikable but it makes for addictive reading. ( )
  CharlotteBurt | Nov 24, 2018 |
Zoë Heller’s novel of obsessive and, ultimately, destructive infatuation is a skilfully rendered portrait of a woman embittered by loneliness and solitude who is pathologically unable to make and keep friends. A teacher with many years of service at a London comprehensive school behind her, Barbara Covett is in her sixties and on the cusp of retirement when the school hires a new art instructor, 40-ish Sheba Hart. Barbara is on the rebound from a failed friendship with another female teacher, and it gives the reader some sense of Barbara’s domineering nature to learn that the former friend, Jennifer, has cut ties with her and threatened legal action if Barbara tries to contact her again. For her part, Barbara claims ignorance regarding the cause of the rift. The novel, which recounts events from Barbara’s perspective, is presented as a document that Barbara is composing in defense of Sheba’s actions, though she ends up revealing as much about herself as she does about Sheba. Sheba, bohemian by nature, attired in gauzy outfits, parades her waiflike beauty with casual nonchalance, oblivious to the comments, flattering and unflattering, that follow in her wake. Married to a man 20 years her senior, saddled with a sullen, temperamental teenage daughter and a son with Down’s Syndrome, she lives a privileged life crammed with material things but is emotionally adrift. Enter student Steven Connelly, 15, whose rough exterior, working-class origins and nascent artistic talent go a long way toward breaking down Sheba’s resistance to his sexual advances. In the meantime, Barbara manages to finagle her way into Sheba’s life to the point of becoming the younger woman’s intimate and confessor. All of these factors come into play when the affair between teacher and student is exposed and attains public notice in the form of salacious tabloid headlines. Sheba, crumbling under the notoriety, her life and career in ruins, is left with no one but Barbara to rely on. Zoë Heller, a journalist, is a master of the stunningly apt turn of phrase, particularly where her characters—their appearance and gestures—are concerned, and throughout the book the prose is vivid and rich with metaphor. On the other side of the ledger, the action occasionally descends into melodrama, and it’s possible some readers will find the construct of Barbara piecing together the story from details gleaned from Sheba during conversations a bit awkward and far-fetched. Despite these minor reservations, What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal], which tells a sordid and unhappy tale in which there are virtually no sympathetic characters, remains highly entertaining and absolutely gripping. ( )
  icolford | Oct 7, 2018 |
The first book selection of the new book group I joined! The narrator really makes the book -- she's not so much an unreliable narrator as a creepy one. I would have liked the book to continue for another chapter or two; there's not much of a denouement. I can't wait to discuss it. ( )
  akaGingerK | Sep 30, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zoë Hellerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Massey, AnnaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:00 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Schoolteacher 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 illicit 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 her own.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141039957, 024195455X

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