Saturday, 21 June 2014

Review: Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller


Book: Notes on a Scandal

Author: Zoe Heller

Pages: 258

Time It Took To Read: 4 hours

Read: Penguin Ink Paperback edition

Plot Summary: 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 also her own.

Why this book is AWESOME:
1. The writing is brilliant. BRILLIANT. It's efficient and evocative all at once, which is a tough, tough thing to do and Ms. Heller pulls it off! 

2. This is a story of, essentially, two characters and both the characters- Sheba and Barbara- are beautifully etched. They are layered and multi-dimensional and you get to go under their skins and understand what drives them and makes them do what they do. It's amazingly efficient how all this layering is achieved in less than 260 pages! 

3. One often reads about these sensational stories of older female teachers having inappropriate "relationships" with much younger male students and I have always wondered how these "relationships" come to be. As in, are these women ritualistic pedophiles or is it a mere (and very unfortunate) lapse in judgement? To see the anatomy of Sheba's "relationship" with Steven, as it unfolded in the book, made for very interesting reading. 

4. The depiction of Sheba's highly dysfunctional family life was also interesting and acted as a backdrop against which her "relationship" with Steven played out. The quietly smug and superior husband, the hell-cat daughter and a young, vulnerable son, who needed Sheba. You can somehow see how tired and trapping this sort of a family life can be and what one may want to do to escape from it, even for a bit. Even if it is highly self-destructive. 

5. Barbara's character is masterfully crafted! She is a mix of plain old vulnerability, single spinsterly sadness and pure malevolence. A highly complex character, indeed. Barbara's need to be needed, to be a special person in someone's life is both scary and pathetic. You partly feel sorry for her and partly you want to punch her in the face. So, so, well written and interesting. 

General Thoughts: We are very excited to, now, watch the movie based on this book starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett! I am sure it will be amazing! 

Rating: 5/5 

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