Fiction – paperback; Penguin; 244 pages; 2003.
I devoured Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal in one sitting and loved every minute of it. It is a cracking read.
Essentially it’s two intertwined stories about two very different relationships: the secret and scandalous love affair between a teacher, Sheba, and her 15-year-old pupil; and the developing friendship between Sheba and her confidante, Barbara, a history teacher at the same school.
This book, which is narrated throughout by Barbara, a lonely spinster, desparate for friendship at any cost, poses many questions about love, lust and loyalty. When should you condone or condemn someone’s actions? When does the professional become personal? Whose side do you take? How far should you go to protect your students? And do they need protecting at all?
Notes on a Scandal has an intriguing undercurrent of malice rippling through it. It’s dark and disturbing. You almost want to step into the pages, grab Sheba by the shoulders and ask her “what the hell are you thinking?”
It’s a perfect study in obsession. And a gripping read. You could spend an afternoon doing worse things than read this superb Booker Prize-nominated novel.