Books, Culture

Review: Notes on a Scandal – Zoe Heller

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller Book CoverA woman in her forties sleeps with a fifteen year old boy. She is a teacher and he is her student. Who’s in the wrong? The woman, of course. The boy is vulnerable because she’s in a role that gives her power. Notes on a Scandal doesn’t attempt to revolutionise your morality, but you’ll see there’s more to these cases than meets the eye.

Sheba Hart is an art teacher, married with children, a new arrival at the low-achieving St. George’s comprehensive school. Steven Connolly is the only student who takes a genuine interest in her subject and she finds herself swept into a sexual affair with him. Their assignations come to an end when Connolly loses interest, but the affair is uncovered nonetheless. Sheba soon finds herself jobless, with an onslaught of unwanted media attention and spurned by her family and friends. All except Barbara Covett, a fellow teacher and our narrator.

Barbara (is ‘barb’ a deliberate aptronym?) is an overbearing middle-class snob. She’s also the reason you’ll keep turning the pages. You’ll struggle to find a despicable narrator you’ll enjoy reading so much. A brilliantly-crafted prude with a penchant for pompous language, she is also extremely creepy.

In Barbara’s eyes, Sheba has done wrong, but she is the victim. Connolly has slept with five young women before Sheba. He approached her at the beginning of the affair, and broke it off. Sheba ended up in love with him; for Connolly, it was merely an extended fling. The real question, however, is can you trust a narrator whose account is warped by prejudice and a repressed passion for Sheba?

Heller’s novel is superbly written, and more than deserving of its place on the 2003 Man Booker Prize shortlist. VP

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
512 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd

About Victoria Pritchard

Columnist, reviewer, author and sometime sports coach


3 thoughts on “Review: Notes on a Scandal – Zoe Heller

  1. This is a terrible review – Barbara was not a ‘middle-class snob’ she was from a humble working-class background and felt ill at ease with the traits of the upper middle-classes despite her formal, mannered character – she was a ‘snob’ but at the heart of this novel is a conflict not only between the generations, but also the classes, something overlooked if you misread Barbara as anything other than working-class…she doesn’t identify herself with the ‘proles’ who make up the majority of the student population at St George’s, but that’s more to do with her notion that they lack ambition and educational motivation. Just as Sheba idealises and inspects the working-class Connolly as ‘other’, Barbara does the same with ‘Sheba’ – she descibes her younger companion’s class (undoubedly upper-middle, she wasn’t aristocracy!) as ‘exotic’ and is fairly removed from the Hart’s way of living…

    Posted by Tally | Apr 11, 2012, 10:25 pm
  2. You have mentioned very interesting details! ps nice web site.

    Posted by Szumiesz | Apr 16, 2012, 11:32 pm
  3. As you usually do, great information.

    Posted by Blue | Jul 24, 2012, 1:12 am

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