Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

Date of Publication: 2003, Picador

“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.”

What I liked best about this book was the way in which Barbara colors her account of Sheba’s life, family, and affair with young Connolly with her own ideas. It’s very easy to follow the story as presented and believe that everything is accurate – but one must remember that this is coming from a lonely and slightly disturbed woman who is obsessed with Sheba and must have made up much of the story to fit her own opinions and desires. This comes out in a surprising outburst by Sheba: “You really believe this stuff is the truth. You write about things you never saw, people you don’t know.” The result is the creepy realization that we never really knew what went on between Sheba and her young lover, or what went on in her mind, but only what Barbara has told us. Both characters are equally compelling, although I felt extremely exasperated with Sheba from time to time. In the end, I would recommend this book to just about everyone I know.

Rating: 8/10

Reviewed by Sarah

Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

  1. I’m glad you liked it.. I thought it was really good, but alot of people on the forum disagreed with me!

    I saw the film the other day, and I wasn’t that keen.. there was too much emphasis on Barbara sexuality, rather than the ‘creepiness’ of it.

  2. kell1976

    Thought I’d add my own review to the mix here:

    According to the note on the front cover, Notes on a Scandal was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2003, however, I really can’t see why.

    When the basis of the plot is an middle-aged female teacher becoming embroiled in a relationship with one of the 15-year-old boys in her class, you expect something a bit risqué, perhaps a little tantalising, somehow sensationalist in its approach; but this is nothing of the kind. In fact, the one work I could really use to describe it all is “dull”.

    There were no remotely likeable characters to be seen – Sheba was naïve, selfish and incredibly stupid; Barbara was just plain odious – a creepy, immature, stalker-type hanger-on who insinuates herself into the lives of those she chooses as her “friends” to the exclusion of all others in order to make herself feel important. This could have been in interesting foray into obsession, but it was just too boring – in fact, I barely made it to the end. It had so much promise but utterly failed to deliver.

    To be perfectly honest, this was my second attempt at this book and I wouldn’t have bothered revisiting it at all if it hadn’t been chosen for reading circle for discussion. I found it pretty pointless and a real chore to plough through. There is no way I will ever read any of Heller’s other work, even if it gets picked for a reading circle – I’ll just pass thanks.

  3. See, I told you some didn’t like it! LOL

  4. Kell, thanks for your review! I agree that neither Sheba nor Barbara were likable, but I still found them interesting. I also found Sheba to be incredibly selfish, and Barbara definitely gave me the creeps! Although I did enjoy the book, I probably won’t read it again.

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