Jami'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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's review
Jan 13, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: british-lit, contemporary-fiction

This is probably one of the most well-written books I've read in a long time. I mean, seriously, there is some amazing writing talent going on here, people. That being said, I'm fully aware that this book is not for everyone. It is definitely, well, scandalous.

The story relates the affair of Sheba, a 40-year-old art teacher and Steven, a 16-year-old student. It is written, however, from the perspective of Barbara, Sheba's much older colleague and friend from school. What is fascinating is how much the reader comes to understand about Barbara's life and personality as she tells Sheba's story. Barbara's loneliness and dispair are achingly apparent. Her feelings toward Sheba are also intricately woven into the telling of the story.

Equally fascinating is how Sheba could get involved in an affair of this nature and yet maintain a sense of sympathy from the reader. It seems absurd that she would risk her family, her job, and her reputation for a physical relationship that she herself admits cannot last. And yet, in Barbara's telling of the events, Sheba is actually portrayed as the victim, with an almost innocent-like quality in her perception of their relationship.

Heller's writing is exquisite and flawless. Each character, shown through Barbara's embittered and condescending eyes, are revealed to perfection. I found myself completely riveted right from the start. Given the subject matter, I wouldn't recommend this to everyone, but I certainly have great respect for Heller's talent.

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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Michelle (new) - added it

Michelle Oh, I'm very curious about this one and can't wait to see what you think of it.

Jami I know, I've been intrigued by it as well. Lots of good reviews by others, but especially people have compared it to the movie, which I haven't seen. So we'll just see how it stands on its own.

message 3: by Michelle (new) - added it

Michelle Great review. My friend Nate thought the movie was fascinating, so now I'm really interested in reading it.

Jami Yeah, I know. I really want to see it, too! It will be interesting to see how it translates to film, you know? If you'll be able to see all Barbara's inner dialogue and emotion without hearing it. I don't know who's in it, but I hope they have someone great for Sheba. I have a definite image in my brain of what she should be like.

message 5: by Michelle (new) - added it

Michelle Kate Blanchett plays Sheba. And Judi Dench plays Barbara. I want to read it first before I watch the movie because I do not like knowing how my books will end before I get there.

Jami Good call. I love Kate Blanchett, and I think she's a fabulous actress, but I don't know if she'd portray Sheba the way I want to see her. I'll let you know if I see it soon!

message 7: by Michelle (new) - added it

Michelle Please do. I was surprised to see that the SF library has this book, so I think I'll be checking it out soon.

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