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Notes on a Scandal - Zoe Heller

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Author: Zoe Heller / Genre: Fiction

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      30.06.2013 22:44
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      bad teacher

      Sheba Hart takes a job as a pottery teacher in a tough comprehensive school after a career break looking after her children. She longs to make a difference in the lives of her pupils and soon becomes disillusioned at the lack of interest that most of her pupils show to her subject. One boy who has hidden talents is Steven Connelly, a tough 15 year old with a bad attitude and soon his after school visits to Sheba's classroom to discuss art lead to the pair becoming lovers. Sheba has one good friend on the school staff; Barbara Covet a veteran teacher nearing retirement age and the pair regularly spend time together on weekends. Barbara discovers that the relationship between Sheba and Connelly may involve more than discussing paintings and urges her friend to stop all contact with the boy. When Sheba turns out to be a less attentive friend than Barbara would like then Barbara's tongue becomes loose which has dire consequences for Sheba's future. From the synopsis, it would be fair to assume that this is a book which focuses on a teacher pupil affair but this is not the case and it is instead a novel about obsession. Not only is Sheba obsessed with Connelly but Barbara is obsessed with Sheba and these unhealthy obsessions lead both women to behave in less than rational ways. Although the teacher-pupil relationship is very much secondary to the friendship between the two teachers, it is still a very interesting plot. Connelly, despite his tender age, is very much the one who seeks out a relationship with the older and supposedly wiser teacher. There has been a lot of coverage of teacher pupil relationships in the press lately and the book was a great way to open up discussion on the subject within a book group. Are all 15 year olds who have relationships with teachers being abused and exploited or can they be an equal participant? Does the fact that the teacher is female and the pupil a boy make it less exploitative than when a male teacher has a relationship with a female pupil? Although the law is very clear on the fact that these relationships are banned, there are a lot of grey areas which are interesting to discuss. It is the friendship between Barbara and Sheba which is the main story and watching this relationship evolve from staffroom buddies to two women whose lives are entwined is chilling. Barbara is disliked by all of the other staff members at the school due to the barely disguised disdain which she treats them and the pupils. As the novel progresses, you realise that behind this battle-axe lies a lonely old spinster who is desperately lonely with her cat as her only companion. I found my attitude towards Barbara changing from disliking her to sympathy and back again many times during the course of the book which shows how good the writing is to produce such a complex and multi layered character. Notes on a Scandal was the latest choice for my book group and no member scored it lower than 8 out of 10 with one person giving it a mighty 10. It opened up some brilliant discussions not only about teacher pupil relationships, the changing nature of childhood and exactly when adolescents are considered adults in different cultures but of the nature of friendships and the types of childhood experiences which shape who we become. Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller is a fantastic book, is brilliantly written in a compact style which packs a real emotional punch and makes you think.

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        28.09.2012 20:22
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        A good gripping story about a relationship between a teacher and student

        My fourth book in the www.sixbookchallenge.com is Notes on a scandal By Zoe Heller This book intrigued me from the star, written in the perspective of the main characters friend. Bathsheba (or Sheba as she is known) is a pottery teacher in her early forties who starts a job at an inner city school, which holds some testing teenagers. On starting her job she is introduced to the variety of teachers there and one who seems distant to begin with is Barbara a long standing teacher who is in her sixties nearing retirement, but who can certainly hold her own with the rowdy teens in means of her strict, no nonsense nature. There relationship starts to develop as Sheba has difficulty in controlling her pupils and Barbara steps in to assist. The main stay of the story is how Sheba develops a relationship with a teenage boy called Steven and how it rips apart the world she has built with her husband and children. ***Sheba and Steven*** Did Sheba take advantage of a teenage boy? Yes in my opinion if you are the adult I feel that is an unquestionable trust as both an adult and as a teacher that should not be betrayed. Steven is fifteen - naive? I doubt it. From the book you get the feeling that he did know what trouble that both he and Sheba could get into, but remember back to your teenage years - did you care? Doubt not. The whole not getting caught and knowing of how "wrong" it was probably part of the thrill. I guess many of us can relate in some respects to feeling attracted to someone younger but fifteen??............ The actual relationship only lasted a few months and you are quickly drawn to how intensely Sheba thought of Steven and although perhaps realizing at some degree that it would not go anywhere, was willing to take increasing risks regarding her family. Whereas Steven, I get the impression it was more of a sex issue with an older women thing and once the initial excitement had gone that was it, he wanted out. ***Sheba and Barbara*** Now here's an interesting friendship. At first it appears just two teachers who have bonded of the raucous teens at there school. As time goes by they spend more and more time together and by about half way through the book you start to feel that maybe Barbara has more intense feelings for Sheba, whether she realizes it or not. When Barbara finds out about Steven she is school mam ish and tells her it must stop, of course it doesn't, and then later feels dejected by Sheba for not confiding in her. However, when push comes to shove Barbara is the only one who is truly there for Sheba though it all when the truth comes out. ***Sheba and her family*** Sheba married young to an older man. Perhaps this is part of the attraction of Steven, young and exciting, something she feels she may have missed out on? Polly is her stepdaughter who is a few years older than Steven and with whom she is having difficulties with discipline. Then her son Ben who has downs syndrome and whom she clearly adores. What will become of there family relationships when the truth comes out and will they have a family at all? ***Overall*** A good, gripping story with some complex relationships which are brilliantly portrayed in the book and I would now like to watch the film to see how Judi Dench and Gwyneth Paltrow play these intriguing characters. It does make me wonder with such stories as many are the male teacher and the girl teen and how this, opposite way round relationship, is seen by the media and general public. In the end of the book I felt was a bit of a let down to be honest. I wanted to know more about what happened to each character and how there lives played out. Review maybe posted on dooyoo and ciao under the same username.

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          05.01.2010 01:10
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          A must read if you have not done so already

          As you can tell from the dates of most of the reviews of this book, I stumbled on it rather after the event, as part of a New Year's resolution to diversify a little from a solid diet of crime fiction! The book is basically an account by Barbara, a recently retired teacher, of a relationship involving Bathsheba, a colleague of hers, and a pupil, which has pretty much led to her seemingly cosy upper class life falling apart. The two had become friends before it happened, and are now effectively taking refuge from the barrage of abuse to which 'Sheba' has been subjected since her wrongdoings were made public. Heller chooses to switch between the past and the present throughout the novel, but unlike in some other books which use this technique, one is never left confused. I was fascinated by how it was possible to build up a picture of Barbara as the narrative progressed without it ever being implicitly indicated, how she went from a seemingly innocuous spinster to a difficult and at times obsesively jealous individual. I also liked the way that although we knew that Bathsheba had been found out, we were kept guessing for a large proportion of the book as to how her misdeeds had eventually been discovered. Some might quibble that the ending was a little abrupt and left us wondering about a lot of loose ends which Heller chooses not to tidy up, but in truth it is not really the kind of book which needs that kind of climax. This is far more a study of relationships and human behaviour, and when viewed as such, I found it to be one of the best books I have ever read of its ilk. I read it in an evening, and would recommend it without hesitation to anyone else like me who has allowed its existence to pass them by until now!

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          07.09.2009 21:53
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          Friend stabs seducing friend in the back, twice.

          I have just finished this novel, and am left with the feeling of that I am still waiting for its conclusion. The entire story is pretty much as the blurb on the back cover states, and never goes beyond it. The basic premise is that a new teacher, married to an older husband academic, has had an affair with one of her pupils. It is is written from the perspective of her spinster experienced teacher friend, who is actually the one who stabs her in the back who not only drops her friend in it by hinting to another colleague, but then writes a dossier of the whole affair. The book is much more about exploring the relationships between people, what makes us do what we do, rather than coming to any conclusion about what should happen to the terrible corrupt Sheba. When I finished the book, my first thought was, was that really it? The story is left unresolved, which may suit some readers, but personally I prefer a tale with a beginning middle and ending.

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          31.03.2009 12:55
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          Interesting is the best word to describe this book.

          I see that this book is actually a film starring Judi Dench, but I have to admit that I have never heard of it. I was given this book in a book swap with a friend and thought it looked like nice light, fun reading. Now I have read it I will probably see the film at some point too. What really struck me about this book is that what it claims to be about appears to be little more than a vehicle to take us through a moral and emotional exploration. The blurb claims that this book is all about a teacher who has an affair with a pupil. The teacher is new to the profession and she is by all accounts a rather weak and wispy woman. The pupil in question is a young fifteen year old who knows a little bit more about what he is doing than he initially lets on. The real focus of this book for me however was the narrator, Barbara. Barbara has befriended Sheba, the teacher who has an affair with a pupil, and she is relaying the story to us through her encounters and discussions with Sheba. Barbara is an extremely strong and rather neurotic character that really made me question my own behaviours and attitudes towards friendships as I read her dialogue. Similarly, I noted the distinct differences between Barbara as one of life's outsiders looking in and Sheba, a naive and foolish thing that has little to offer the world but a thriving life that Barbara wants to be a part of all the same. I found the way this book was written to be a little unusual in some respects. The narrative from Barbara remains relatively consistent throughout, but the recollections from Sheba's experience jump between the past, present and future with a bit too much frequency in places. Despite this, I found the book rather difficult to put down and had finished it in just over twenty four hours. I had expected this thin book to be a bit of light reading, but in reality it was a really thought-provoking read that made me question my own morals and standards quite uneasily at times. You can get a copy of this for only £2.10 from Play.com so I think it is well worth a look if you are interested in this kind of short but rather compelling novel.

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            29.03.2008 14:37
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            Must Read!

            Having watched the film of Notes on a Scandal starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett and having seen such rave reviews of the book written by Zoe Heller I felt that I should read it and see how the book compared to the film which was very well executed. The book is written in the form of notes/diary written by the central character Barbara Covett, an old-school history teacher, past retiring age; who decided to keep notes on the relationship between her colleague and friend, Bathsheba Hart, and the scandal that she was embroiling herself into. The scandal the spread across a 2year span was the fact that a pottery teacher became embroiled in an affair with a 15/16 year old boy. The reader is made aware of these events immediately in the book before Barbara informs us of how the journey started and ended through her eyes. Barbara has spent her life alone, friendless apart from her beloved Cat and one time friend called Jennifer who she fell out with. Barbara comes across as a deranged stalker in the book, and the book is written through her perspective and her opinions of people and events. Barbara proves to be very witty, and have great opinions on people. Her dry sense of humour comes through to the reader as well as her thoughts and feelings that are portrayed beautifully through the use of the First person. Due to being Barbara's retelling of events, we see Bathseba [Sheba] through her eyes. Barbara is clearly fond and protective over he and becomes very jealous over Sheba's other relationships with Men and Women. Barbara takes great glee in insulting her husband, mother and lover and even Sheba in the opening chapters. These opinions are great fun to read and give the book a certain edge to it. Contrary to popular belief, this book is not a retelling of steamy sex sessions that occurred between teacher and pupil but the story of their relationship. The issue of sex is brought up at times but only for Barbara to skirt over the issue, as she feels very opposed to the way a person she is infatuated in is behaving. The nervousness of how the affair started was made brilliant reading, with the young lad saying "Miss? Can I cum in you?" and other such quotes made the story flourish. What I did enjoy about the novel but did not feel when i watched the movie, was how through the book the secret personal feelings of the characters were able to be portrayed successfully. Sheba's relationship between Daughter, Son and Mother were all able to be expanded upon in the book, showing how Sheba saw herself trapped in a family too young, and still liked to act the teenager. One problem with the book could be the ending. It just ends with the affair uncovered by the School and Police {you knew this from the introduction}. Whereas in the film the ending was extended a bit to include Barbara seemingly like she was about to reek havoc again. Not normally a fan of Hollywood amendments to books, but in my opinion they ending in the film was far better. However the storyline that Heller creates and the character of Barbara keep you hooked throughout the 244 pages and I really did enjoy reading this take of scandal and personal opinion. I would absolutely recommend this book quite gladly to anybody. Funny, Gripping and Addictive. The book is easy to read and worthy of the Man Booker prize Nomination. RRP: £7.99, think i bought mine for £5.99 off amazon.co.uk Definite worth a read.

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              18.06.2006 09:17
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              Observing Barbara's loneliness

              This was an interesting text to read. Most of the way through it, it felt like non-fiction material but in fact is fiction. The topic itself is a gripping topic and I opened it with eager anticipation from reading the blurb. I felt let down quite quickly as the blurb really hyped the book (I know this is its job!) beyond the content. Had I not been so intrigued with Barbara Covett I may have not engaged as actively with the content as I did. After reading the novel, many people may wish to know more about Sheba Hart, in fact I would also like to know more about her – a lot was left unsaid about the relationship with her husband. However, the fascination I felt at Barbara’s lifestyle is what sold this novel to me. To describe her as lonely is an understatement, and when her cat becomes ill, I actually felt for her. If anyone has experienced a time when they are alone in their life then this would remind you of how you felt. I experienced a range of emotions towards Barbara during the first time she visited Sheba at home, it was compelling reading at this point. The actual writing style was excellent, I enjoyed reading it from Barbara’s perspective rather than Sheba’s; and I quickly realised the novel was not so much about Sheba’s circumstances, but about Barbara’s/ It may seem strange that I am describing how compelling the topic is, yet stating how let down I felt. It was the ending in this instance. I usually enjoy being left with questions if I have engaged with a text, however in this case I felt there was too much I still needed to be informed off and was dissatisfied with how abruptly the novel ended. All in all, I’m very pleased I read it – it was a good read, but I felt it was distinctly lacking in a substantial ending.

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                09.04.2005 01:23
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                Reading book reviews is my weakness. My “To Read” list grows daily as I’m introduced to more and more books that just sound like they’re worth reading. Notes On A Scandal was one of these books and when I visited a friend and saw it perching on her bookshelf, I cheekily asked if I could borrow it. She hasn’t actually read it herself yet but she happily brought it into work for me and 3 days later I am ready to return it. The story revolves around two women. Barbara Covett is nearing retirement age and has been teaching at St. Georges Comprehensive in London for many years. She is an observant voyeur of everything that goes on around her and it is from her perspective that we find out about the details of the scandal. Sheba Hart is a new pottery teacher at St. George’s. Although in her early 40s, this is her first teaching post. She married early and had two children, Polly and Ben. Since Ben was born with Down’s Syndrome, she wanted to make sure he was happily settled before continuing her own career. As it’s Sheba’s first adventure into the world of education, she has idealistic ideas of inspiring these sometimes difficult children with her art lessons. Unfortunately it all falls rather flat for her early on as most of the pupils are more concerned with commenting on her style of dress – see through skirts and tops probably not the wisest choice of clothing when teaching a group of teenagers – rather than learning about the artists she is passionate about herself. One boy, however, does show an interest, 15 year old Steven Connolly. And pleased that someone is sharing her enthusiasm, she starts to welcome him readily to her classroom. Although the story is supposedly about Sheba and her ensuing affair with Steven Connolly, as it is told from Barbara’s point of view, she reveals a lot about herself and this is where the darkness in the novel arises. There are constant references to a previous friendship she had with a woman called Jennifer and through her descriptions of this we discover a hidden desperation to Barbara’s character. This desperation means that Barbara is often upset by little things that those less lonely probably wouldn’t even notice. And when the upset and despair turns to anger, it is Sheba’s secret that is under threat. The affair itself made for really interesting reading. Questions are asked early on about gender differences in these kinds of cases, older woman and younger boy seems to be treated differently than if it had been older man, younger girl. Of course, the underlying assumption is that the adult in this situation is the one with the power in the relationship. Perhaps this power is the reason that the relationship is pursued. Delving deeper into Sheba and Steven’s situation, we are made to challenge this belief. There are several other characters who play differing roles in the story. At first I found some of the other teachers a little stereotypical – Brian Bangs, the nervous maths teacher who lives alone, Mr Pabblem (always referred to as just Pabblem) the young headteacher full of ideas for changing the school and Sue Hodge, one of the first teachers that Sheba befriends. But on reflection, this is a story told from just one side and Barbara seems to have a lot of contempt for many of her fellow staff. She knows she is aloof from them and most of the comments made about them are quite condescending. I found the style of the story quite hard to get into at first. The writing is quite formal, after all Barbara is quite a formal lady and her voice comes across strongly. But after a couple of chapters it starts to read quite naturally. The story also flits around from the present to the past as Barbara recounts events surrounding the scandal. This isn’t too hard to follow though as, because it is based around a school, term times and holidays are easily defined. Heller makes good reference to the 6 week summer holidays, Guy Fawkes Night, Christmas and New Year to keep you on track. I also found it frustrating at the beginning to only see the story from Barbara’s point of view. I really wanted to know how Sheba saw the events that were being described rather than just having Barbara’s interpretation. It is rare thing to enjoy a book with so many unsympathetic characters. I seemed to dislike Barbara more and more as the story progressed, but at the same time wanted to read on as a sinister side became more apparent. There were also questions about her that were left unanswered, or for the reader to make up their own minds, right down to the very end. Sheba is a complex character and although seems to be a likeable person, her actions and for me, her weaknesses, made her difficult to empathise with. I wanted to slap her at several points and make her wake up to the real world. Then there is Sheba’s husband, Richard, and daughter Polly who put in several appearances throughout. Neither are particularly endearing. It is a short, gripping novel at just over 240 pages and one that I managed to complete in a little over 2 days. There isn’t a lot in the way of action but there is enough suspense to make you want to read to the end. Don’t expect it to be just a description of the scandal and the aftermath. I found it to be more about the relationship that forms between the two central characters. The affair just provides the backdrop and by the end, I was starting to question what the scandal in the title of the book was really referring to, just the affair or Barbara’s manipulation of the situation? It can currently be bought on Amazon Marketplace for the bargain price of a penny for the paperback or 20p for the hardback or from £5.59 from Amazon themselves and there are usually plenty of copies up for sale on eBay for varying prices. RRP £6.99 for the paperback and £14.99 for the hardback. Recommended.

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                  15.07.2004 21:28
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                  Bathsheba Hart is a new teacher at St George?s. From day one she is befriended by Barbara Covett, an older and more established colleague who teaches history. Barbara is a sixty-something spinster, with a sharp tongue and little sense of humour. Sheba is 41, married with two kids and beautiful. She wears flowing clothes and pretty jewellery. The male teachers lust after her, the women turn away from her. So Sheba is glad of Barbara's company. Because of her looks, the kids see Sheba as an easy touch and misbehave during class. Sheba sometimes ended up in tears because they harass and insult her. The other teachers despair at her lack of control in the classroom. But one boy develops a crush on Sheba. He draws her pictures and waits for her after class. Sheba is horrified when he kisses her but then, realising her feelings for him have moved into dangerous territory, she embarks on a passionate affair with him, risking her marriage and her career. All of this is quietly observed by Barbara, our narrator. She is literally taking notes of this scandalous episode. And she doesn?t like it. Her friend is being taken away, and what?s more by a 15 year old boy. Barbara?s jealousy becomes apparent, her disapproval obvious. The reader sees what damage an ?accidental? slip of the tongue to a fellow teacher can do and how it can wreck lives, destroy families and end in a court case. * Friendship * Sheba and Barbara?s friendship is slow in evolving. Another teacher, Sue, is soon firmly dealt with by Barbara when she sees how friendly she is with Sheba. ?Across the table, I could feel Sue giving me the evil eye. I smiled and shrugged and blew on my soup to cool it. I was beginning to enjoy myself?. Barbara wants Sheba's companionship on an exclusive basis an d her wry quips soon warn off any potential lunch guests! An onlooker would see Barbara?s hold over Sheba as obsessive. Barbara?s lonely and Sheba appearing in her life is a godsend to her. She?s found a soulmate, someone she can share things with. But just how far is she willing to go to keep Sheba close to her? * What I liked * I have to say Barbara is an excellent character. Cleverly, because Heller tells the story from her point of view, we know very little about Barbara?s past, and indeed, very little about her as a person until, slowly, she starts pushing herself into Sheba?s life. Sheba has the life that Barbara perhaps saw for herself, with children and a husband. Barbara lives alone with only her cat for company and obviously too much time on her hands. In her notes we see that she doesn?t think she?s doing anything wrong by documenting her friend?s story. What will Sheba do when she discovers her life has become a sordid set of scribbles? What becomes of Connolly, the sullen school boy? And does Barbara?s nasty nature manage to ruin Sheba and her family? Interestingly, the subject is raised that the boy is under age and the comparison made with an older man teacher/young girl student and how that would be treated in a completely different way to Sheba?s situation. When the press get hold of the story, the journalist writes ?What red-blooded fifteen-year-old wouldn?t welcome a roll in the hay with Sheba Hart?? This opposes an article with Connolly?s mother who condemns the affair saying ?I find it mind-boggling that anyone should consider the sexual abuse of a minor a laughing matter?. One would almost feel sorry for Barbara. She?s not all bad, indeed some of the book tells us of her cat becoming ill and we see that she isn?t as hard as we first th ink. ?I cried because I had dealt what seemed to me an almost certainly fatal blow to my friendship with Sheba. I cried because I was the sort of woman at whom girls in the hairdresser?s giggle. I cried, finally, at the indignity of my crying; the sheer stupidity of being a spinster blubbing in her bedroom on a Saturday night?. But our glimpses of her mischief making and almost unfailing attempt to get Sheba all to herself ensure that we feel admiration for her malice! Throughout the book she seems to have a reason for her nasty little snipes and feels no remorse for them! This is a clever story, one with a sinister undertone that I found extremely readable. The story is fairly simple with the two main characters being the two women, but ?bit parts? going to Sheba?s husband, her surly teenage daughter Polly and a lecherous maths teacher called Bangs. This is a short book at only 244 pages and newly out in March as a paperback. I bought it in WHSmith for £3.99 with £3 off the RRP. Cheaper options would probably be to look on Ebay/Amazon where it may be found cheaper. So to the awarding of the stars - five from me. The style of writing is spot on and the last two chapters are the icing on the cake to a fascinatingly dark book. This is the rise and fall of Bathsheba Hart with lead puppeteer Barbara pulling the strings. Read this book! * Other info * Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2003 Zoe Heller writes a column for the Daily Telegraph and was Columnist of the Year for 2002. She lives in New York. ISBN 0-141-01225-0 Thanks for reading!

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                    30.06.2004 04:56
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                    I?m a commuter these days! I?ve gone from having a 20-30 minute tube journey to anything between 50 - 70 minutes each way, every day. This gives me valuable reading time, so I do read profusely (when I?m not falling asleep from the sheer sauna like conditions!). Anyway, I?ve recently read is the famous Zoe Heller novel, Notes on a Scandal. I?d heard and read a lot of good things about it. I?d been told that it?s excellent, gripping, sinister, addictive, compelling to mention just a few of the comments I?d received whilst reading it. Well, actually I?m writing this review to offer a different opinion. I really did NOT like it ? not a bit, not a smidgen, one iota. I struggle to see what all the fuss is about? THE STORY (what story?) ?From the first day that the beguiling Sheba hart joins the staff of St George?s, history teacher Barbara Covett is convinced that she has found a kindred spirit. Barbara?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.? This is the introductory paragraph on the back cover of the paperback version of Notes on a Scandal. Actually, once you?ve read this, you?ve read the book ? game, set and match. There?s nothing else to tell. The ?Notes? themselves rather than the scandalous tale of a teacher?s affair with an underage pupil, reveal the manipulative way in which Barbara (the narrator of the story) instigates the start of and develops the bizarre friendship between herself and Sheba. Barbara reminded me of a couple of an old shorthand teacher of mine from secretarial college, who was also a ?spinster?. At least I could identify somewhat with the character! So what exactly is the scandal referred to in the title ? is it the teacher/pupil affair, or is it the eventually treachery between two close female friends? The bottom line for me was that the plot was weak, it was revealed from the introductory paragraph and the resultant ?notes? have much more to do with female personalities and friendships, than the teacher/pupil relationship. Actually in my opinion it was ?plot-less?, but to be fair, this may have been deliberate. Perhaps my expectations were too high? THE CHARACTERS Barbara Covett ? the narrator of the story. A very prim, proper, ageing history teacher nearing retirement, a spinster harbouring old-fashioned values and a strict disciplinarian of pupils. We discover that Barbara finds it difficult to maintain friendships and she suggests herself that this could be due to her own ?intensity? when friendships are formed. She lives alone with her cat Portia and becomes obsessed with Sheba. She even makes reference to when ?Sheba kept herself tantalisingly remote?. More than once whilst reading I wondered if Miss Covett was in the closet, whilst having secret sexual designs on Sheba herself. ?Even I, a woman in my early sixties and, by common consent no oil painting, have been known to prick the testosteronal curiosity of my fifteen year old charges from time to time.? Sheba (Bathsheba) Hart ? the middle aged (40 ish) pottery teacher who becomes embroiled in a passionate affair with a 15 year old pupil. Sheba is the daughter of a famous economist, married to a middle-upper class older man who had at one time been her lecturer. This character in some ways seems quite oblivio us to the ?real? world and all that goes on around her. You get the feeling that she really believed that she could continue her affair with her pupil and not be caught. Steven Connolly ? the pupil. The 15 year old working class student, who is taught in ?special needs? classes. He develops a crush on Sheba after spending time in her HC Class (Home Work), which doubles as a detention class. Sheba encourages his talent in art, and she spends time with him after class to develop his interest in art further ? but it gets taken slightly further than that! There are other characters in this book, but they are insignificant really in the grand scheme of things. However, overall the central characters are well developed, strong and very believable. I found myself neither liking nor stronglyidentifying with any of them. They certainly made me feel somewhat uncomfortable. But I didn?t dislike them either. It really was a bit like being a ?fly on the wall? observing the proceedings with nonchalant interest. THE STYLE This is what made me keep reading to the end. The writing is fluid and fast moving. It gripped me. It is true that the style could be described as compelling or even addictive. It?s a quick read, and due to the fact that I was eventually disappointed, for that I am grateful! I found it an ?easy? read and although there was little substance to the story the pace was quick. The style is intelligent but the language is ?difficult? in parts, with the use of long words and an assumption that people are knowledgeable about the theory behind the English class system. I pondered about the use of language and whether it was a deliberate attempt to manipulate this into the a ?novel?, rather than a ?story?. CONCLUSION I didn?t like it. I felt the plot was weak, although the characters strong. Dislike may be too strong a viewpoint. Perhaps indifference is better? I just don?t understand why people raved about it the way that they did. I ended it thinking, ?is that it then?? I had more questions than answers and although that can sometimes be an indication of a good read, I don?t believe it was in this case. I?ll think twice before reading anything in this vein again or borrow it from the library, rather than pay for it. My final thought is that there is so much more that could have been done with this story. I would like to have seen the issues addressed in more depth; I wanted my thinking to be challenged in a more formidable way. Deeper examination of the teacher/pupil relationship or significant analysis of the difference in the sexes related to this would have been a far more interesting read. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION Shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2003 Zoe Heller is a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and this is her second novel 244 pages Published (paperback) by Penguin Books £6.99 (although I bought it on a 3 for 2 offer in Books Etc) ISBN 0-141-01225-0 Thanks for reading. Cheers. Christina ;-) x

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                      20.06.2004 00:39
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                      Zoë Heller was perhaps better known for her column in the Daily Telegraph until she wrote this novel ?Notes on a Scandal? which was nominated for a Booker prize in 2003. The book Notes on a Scandal is written as a journal by spinster 60+yr old school teacher Barbara Covett and recounts the events of a newly appointed 41yr old teacher Sheba Hart who joins the staff at St George?s ? a fictitious comprehensive school in London. Although it is a work of fiction there were a couple of times while reading that I was so sucked into the story line that I had to double check that it was in fact classified as fiction! Barbara has been at the school for most of her teaching life, and as such can be quite cynical about ?do-gooders? such as Sheba; a new teacher who obviously wants to try and make a difference. Sheba is an art teacher with an obvious passion for her subject whereas Barbara sees the school as an ordinary comprehensive that gets very ordinary results, and that modern teaching methods were not necessary ? ?At least in the old days kids could go out in the world knowing how to do Long Division?. At least 25% of the kids at St George?s have Special Needs. One such kid is Steven Connolly who has difficulties with reading and writing. ?The Scandal? which is the subject of this book is an ?inappropriate? affair between 15 year old pupil Connolly, and schoolteacher Sheba Hart. Hart first meets Connolly, when she is supervising the Homework Club (known as Haitch Cee). This club was an initiative set up by the Head as a place of study for kids who may not have such a luxury at home; however it was often used as a dumping ground for kids who got detention ? hence Connolly?s presence there one evening. Sheba's interest in this pupil was initially because he was drawing, or rather copying pictures from a magazine, and doing very well with it; causing her to wonder why he was not in her art classes. She later discovered that kids with Special Need s couldn?t have these classes due to the Timetable, and made a note to do what she could for the boy Connolly. Despite the teacher in charge of drafting the Timetable telling her that developing a timetable which could give all 1300 pupils all the classes they needed would be akin to playing three dimensional chess, she began to take an interest in Connolly's artistic ability, and he began to visit her in her art rooms after classes where she would encourage his talent; and a mutual attraction is born and develops. But the book isn?t just about the affair and the aftermath, in fact there is very little about the aftermath at all despite the fact that once the affair is exposed, innocent lives are disrupted, and the story is all over the media. In many ways the book is mainly about Barbara, and her views on her colleague?s behaviour, her feelings on 'The Boy Connolly', and on her life in general. Barbara?s relationship with Sheba and ultimately her family is a strange one. She seems to start out with a healthy disrespect for her, as she does for a lot of people, yet at the same time she wants to be part of Sheba?s circle of friends. Over a period of time she is able to move in on her life and her friendship with another colleague Sue, who Barbara has no time for. Before too long, she has become a close friend of the family, and Barbara congratulates herself for having ousted Sue in the friendship stakes. As you read more and more of Barbara?s ?Notes? its interesting to build up a picture of the woman in your mind. She seems to me to be an articulate and intelligent individual, yet one whose world consists of Black and White, and definitely a lonely old soul with very little social life outside work, except for her cat Portia. Barbara is always right. She doesn?t approve of her friend?s affair with the 15 year old pupil, but it?s more of a professional disapproval rather than the general view that society might hold of such a r elationship, which she doesn't necessarily agree with as being improper. Sheba Hart, on the other hand, is a character I could almost feel sorry for. She has married an older man, and has two children of their own, falling pregnant at a relatively young age. Her second child, Ben, has Down?s Syndrome, and as a result of caring for him Sheba?s career did not begin as early as she would have otherwise been the case. The fact that the Ex-wife and step children are a regular feature of their lives and a dominating mother in Scotland, have probably all contributed to Sheba?s yearning for something more exciting. And hence she was responsive to the boy?s advances, despite early reservations. And the affair goes on for many months; Connolly is clearly a major part of her life and someone she often turns to, often taking great risks in her desire to be with him. She is attracted to his innocence and his language during their lovemaking, and she genuinely cannot see what is wrong, despite being aware of the dangers of being caught. . But ultimately of course, they are caught, and the whole sorry Scandal is made public. (NB: This isn't giving away the ending, as the fact the affair is public is apparent from the first page) This is a short book (243 pages), and yet again one that gripped me from the very first page and one which is easily completed in one or two reading sessions. It is a gripping tale of obsessive behaviour and lonely people, with some malicious twists and turns, in this needy and often unrewarding friendship; which will keep you hooked until the last page. ISBN 0-141-01225-0 list price £6.99 for paperback by penguin, although I picked up my copy much cheaper. Current Amazon offer price £3.49.

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                        25.03.2004 02:31
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                        'Notes on a Scandal' does exactly what it says on the cover. It is notes. On a scandal. And it's a cracking good read. The author is Zoe Heller, who has much newspaper work and a previous novel under her belt. This particular tome found it's way onto the 2003 Booker short list, along with quite a lot of my other recent reading material, I realise as I come to write this review. I've actually had this knocking around for months, but it had slipped under my bedside table, some vigorous cleaning earlier this week unearthed it. And two nights later with it back in it's dust jacket I am here to tell you all about this delicious dark tale of sex, love, jealousy and friendship, which is places is touching, others disturbing. The whole book avoids sentimentality and instead hits on a haunting feeling around the crumbled lives involved. Our narrator is Barbara, and we meet her after all the events have taken place. First impressions are that she seems a sweet old lady, helping out her friend Sheba who has Got Herself In Some Trouble. Barbara is reconstructing events, and as she unravels the story to write her memory of it down, we peer in with her to see what threw these two unlikely women together. Sheba Hart joins St George's comprehensive as a pottery teacher, a floaty upper class woman, attracting the cold eyes of fellow teacher Barbara Covett. Lonely, prim spinster Barbara senses in Sheba some kind of kindred spirit, and determines that they will be friends. When Sheba does not gravitate towards her, Barbara becomes curt, trying to belittle Sheba infront of others, and making increasingly harsh comments about other members of staff. Sheba in her goodnaturedness is oblivious to this, and eventually the women do forge some kind of connection. At first Barbara's obsession with becoming part of Sheba's happily married family world is touching, but as the story unfolds more it becomes sinister. The scandal that allows us to investigate this mismatched friendship is introduced to us immediately on the first page. Barbara was not the only one to forge a relationship with the attractive Sheba. She has been caught having a clandestine affair with one of her underage pupils. As Barbara carries on with writing her version of the story, compiling time lines and putting down memories, the two women are living as outcasts, awaiting the court case. Sheba is distraught, unable to function now that her family and her young lover, Connolly have been ripped away from her. She borders on an unhealthy madness, unable to see that she has done wrong, wracked by being unable to contact the boy, though it is clear to the reader that she has been ditched. She becomes a child again. Thank goodness she has Barbara to help her out and pick up the pieces. Right? Well. Maybe. The further you get into this intense story, the more the narrator unwittingly reveals about herself and her own motivations. Barbara hints at other friendships ruined by her overbearing need to be close to someone. At first she elicits pity from the reader, where Sheba is too embroiled in her little romance to give her friend much time, but this soon turns to fear, Barbara has gained what she ultimately craves at the end of the novel, but at what price? The freedom and sainty of her beloved Sheba? More of the plot than that I can't give you. But Barbara's notes are a great read. They reveal so much about the characters, about the venom that can bubble away under a quiet surface of a friendship. Some of her observations about Sheba are so cruelly bare, stretching her friend out for us to examine. A theme running through that seems to obsess Barbara are perceived class differences, things she does not have, but this has not been as well explored as it could have been. Perhaps another major thread would have been too much for the novel. Heller's drawing of the people populating this story is fas cinating, she has a real eye for details that speak volumes. Often shining through the narrative is a dark humour, satirising events with a black wit. This is especially apparent in the quotes taken from the media. Heller is a journalist herself, so perhaps in a prime position to poke fun at the popular press attitude towards this kind of story. A forty year old woman embarking on a sexual affair with a fifteen year old boy provides a field day for tabloid hacks. But the story manages to glide over the paedophilia involved, highlighting the popular reaction to such a tale - people find it amusing, they applaud the boy. Yet Sheba still faces the offical line and as a result loses everything. It is the subtext about female friendship in this book that makes it such a pleasure to read, along with the very competent writing style. Although I think Heller has in places liberally sprinkled the text with long words that the general public won't be familar with in order to make sure that this is received as 'literature' rather than commercial fiction. All in all though, I was gripped from start to finish, loving the dark bits and completely caught up in the story. And trying to ignore the mad old spinster bits of Barbara that I identified with... 'Notes on a scandal' Zoe Heller £14.99 but out in paperback in march...

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