Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

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Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Susmita Chatto
Reviewed by Susmita Chatto
Summary: A risky love affair gives rise to a sinister friendship.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: August 2011
Publisher: Penguin Ink
ISBN: 978-0241954553

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Barbara has been teaching at St George's for several years, and in spite of her caustic words on the institution, it is very much the focus of her lonely life. When newcomer, Sheba joins them, she forms a strong bond with her, and becomes part of Sheba's life. Sheba is married with two children, but her attraction to a pupil, Connolly, leads her to risk everything in a liaison of which Barbara is extremely jealous. As a result, their apparent friendship travels a sinister path.

Brilliantly evoking the sights, sounds and smells of a run down secondary school, Heller provides a gripping portrayal of the problems faced by teachers both in and out of the classroom. The children, the staff and the general claustrophobia of the situation are described unflinchingly: If you were to plot a graph of a teacher's spirits throughout the school day, afternoon break would be represented by the lowest valley. The air in the staffroom has a trapped, stagnant quality… A great many chocolate bars and instant noodles in plastic pots are consumed.

Overall, Barbara makes a wonderful narrator, not just with her observations on the story itself and on her friendship with Sheba, but with her musings on life as a whole. Contemporary topics weave in and out cleanly; controversial issues in education, media and morality are key parts of the tale.

The relationship between Sheba and Connolly is described with a combination of an inside and outside perspective; Barbara continually goes over Sheba's own, sometimes touching descriptions, whilst combining it with the narrative of her own disgust and disbelief. This makes for morbidly fascinating reading; seeing both sides of the story, and seeing the path that Sheba travels with our prior knowledge of her downfall makes this novel a compulsive page-turner.

We see just enough of Barbara's sinister side early on in order to understand that her friendship, however well intended, may have another side to it. However, Barbara also makes herself quite likeable with her wry humour taking on every subject from the perception of a single, rather plain, middle aged woman in the world to the politics of working in the modern education system. Her loneliness and subsequent willingness to be part of Sheba's family life also bring out some sympathy in the reader, and this sympathy means that it is not entirely clear if or how their friendship will alter.

Ultimately, the story takes us to the darker side of relationships; how lovers lie to preserve relationships, how we deceive ourselves and others for the same reasons and how we cling to all kinds of relationships to validate ourselves. This novel is searingly accurate in its study of human relationships and values and is utterly unforgettable.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this copy in the Penguin Ink series to the Bookbag.


Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Recipe For Scandal by Debby Holt

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Buy Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller at


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