trishtrash's Reviews > Notes On A Scandal

Notes On A Scandal by Zoë Heller
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's review
Dec 28, 2009

liked it

This is, at its core, a novel about obsession; the narrator’s for her young colleague Sheba Hart, and Sheba’s for the fifteen year old pupil with whom she is having an affair. There is something slightly lunatic and sad about these two women; At 60, spinsterly, closeted lesbian (closeted, or not inclined to admit it in her notes, or maybe just unaware of her own tendencies, it’s cleverly left for the reader to judge) Barbara pins all her hopes of finding a connection, of no longer being alone, on a married woman who is already having an potentially disastrous affair. Sheba, meanwhile, devolves from naïve and vulnerable to being a blinkered, romantic idiot, ignoring the danger of imprisonment, the likely breakdown of her family, even the damage she is doing to Stephen, the boy whose crush on her withers into casual, almost reluctant sex.

Even though there is little redeemably likeable about snide, bitter Barbara or the object of her attention, there’s nothing off-putting about the story itself, which plays out like a train-wreck in slow motion, neatly written in Barbara’s convincing yet distancing voice; the reader might feel pity for her, or dislike her intensely, but we cannot help but agree with her astonishment at Sheba’s actions. After a while, her affront becomes our affront, as we are drawn into the minutiae of concern about every aspect of the affair.

A very readable, if bleakly gossipy book. I had to turn off the movie halfway through, because I could not stand to watch Dame Judi Dench very cannily portray Barbara – I like Judi Dench too much to associate her with the character, and she was doing an unsurprisingly fantastic job of it, it was undoubtedly brilliant casting – but disassociating her from the character made the story easier to read than to watch. It gets under your skin, this one, reminding us that humans are fragile and foolish and inclined to be unkind when we are thwarted.
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