A 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
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd