Newest Review: ... When Sheba turns out to be a less attentive friend than Barbara would like then Barbara's tongue becomes loose which has dire consequenc... more
Notes on a Scandal - Zoe Heller
Member Name: wigglylittleworm
Notes on a Scandal - Zoe Heller
Advantages: very well written book with great characters
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.
Summary: bad teacher