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Notes from the small minded
Notes on a Scandal - Zoe Heller
Member Name: kirstymack80
Notes on a Scandal - Zoe Heller
Date: 15/07/04, updated on 15/07/04 (335 review reads)
Advantages: sinister, great characters
Disadvantages: too short
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.
Thanks for reading!