Julianne Bailey's Reviews > What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal]

What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] by Zoë Heller
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Aug 12, 2011

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Read in July, 2011

From the first day that Sheba Hart joins the staff of St George’s, history teacher Barbara Covett is convinced that she has found a kindred spirit. Babara’s loyalty to her new friend is passionate and unstinting and when Sheba is discovered to be having an illicit affair with one of her young pupils, Barbara quickly elects herself as Sheba’s chief defender. But all is not as it first seems in this dark story and, as Sheba will soon discover, a friend can be just as treacherous as any lover.
My review;
After reading the blurb of this book, of course it is inevitable that your mind wanders, wanting to know exactly how treacherous a friend can be. On first opening the book, it appears to be written as a diary, not something one expects, but all becomes clear as the narrator of the book reveals herself to be Barbara, one of the key characters within the novel. This also indicates that this book, rather than being written from the main characters point of view, or a third person perspective has been cleverly devised to be presented from an outsiders view of the situation but from a character who knows an awful lot more than they probably should. However, as I discovered this, I was sceptical about the book. I mean, how much can you write about a situation you’ve only heard of? That’s just been described to you? But it soon becomes clear that this is much more than that. The friendship held between the two characters of Barbara and Sheba has been created as strong enough that Barbara knows even the smallest of details which may not seem important.
The issues dealt with through this book are not ones that are often written about. With a very controversial storyline, Heller has planned her story carefully but has also not been afraid to go into detail within certain scenes. The book deals with the relationship between Sheba – a new teacher at the school and a year ten pupil Steven Connolly. What starts out as a school boys crush quickly turns into romance, and some may argue, love on Sheba’s behalf. However, towards the end of the novel this school boy crush soon turns sour and with Sheba’s feelings hurt and her heart full of confusion, Barbara presents the hurt she’s feeling by describing herself almost as Sheba’s carer. This is when it becomes obvious of the love that Barbara holds towards her friend. She cares enough to look after her when she’s at her worst, almost as a motherly figure. But it’s also obvious of the jealousy that she beholds for her friends lover and in a moment of anguish, she lets slip Sheba’s affair to another teacher at the school. And when Sheba finds this out, their relationship really is tested. The analysis of the character Barbara at this point can also be interpreted in different ways. On one hand, we could see that Barbra did this in a moment of madness and sincerely regretted her choices. However, it can also be seen that she did it out of spitefulness because Sheba was giving her love to another person and she was jealous. This can also be an emphasised conclusion as we learn about Barbara’s past friendships and how they turned out. Thus, we can also determine that Sheba is being naive where Barbara is concerned. One thing we can be certain of is Barbara’s dislike for the character of Connolly and her clear disapproval of their relationship, but for how long can she keep this a secret from Sheba?
The book is an overall good read, and is something I would recommend to many a reader. It has been reviewed by a number of different newspapers: the Daily Mail describes it as “Deliciously sinister”, the daily telegraph as “Superbly gripping. One of the most compelling books I’ve read in ages”. And whilst these descriptions and reviews are very agreeable on behalf of the story as a whole, I would, personally, criticise the Heller’s slightly careless, childish writing at times. She has become accustomed to writing sentences, and sometimes almost full paragraphs in brackets – an amateur mistake in my opinion. I would also discuss the view point. Though the view point from Barbara is different, allowing the reader to interact with the characters in a form that is not often seen, I would have liked to have seen more of the story from Sheba’s– or even Connoly’s - point of view as I just don’t think there is enough description of their relationship and how it impacted their lives. Sheba being a married woman with a family was barely touched on. The characters were introduced almost instantly as if they were well known. You don’t get to learn of how they feel for each other, their real relationships’. We are simply presented with a distorted view from Barbara – a character jealous of her friend.
However, besides these criticisms, the book cleverly deals with different aspects of love – family, friendship and sexual relationships. The storyline is compelling and really does draw you in and encourage you to continue reading to the end, making you want to know what happens. Do they get found out? How? What will he do? What will she do? All questions that are answered as you continue to read.
I would award this book a 3 out of 5. A fantastic storyline, however, a slightly careless writer but definitely worth a read!

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