Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller (not to be confused with Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan) has been on my TBR for a while, so when I spotted this copy in a charity shop, I snapped it up. I devoured it that same day. It’s a clever, layered psychological thriller that’s just a fantastic read!
Opening sentence: The other night at dinner, Sheba talked about the first time that she and the Connolly boy kissed.
Barbara and Sheba
The scandal of the title refers to a secondary school pottery and art teacher, the amazingly named Bathsheba aka Sheba, who starts an affair with a 15 year old pupil, Steven Connolly. The notes are then essentially, this book. Taken down (without Sheba’s knowledge or consent) by our lead character, Barbara, who is a history teacher at the same school as Sheba.
Sheba is in her 30s/40s, married to Richard and has two children. She’s new to the school and after a stilted beginning, befriends the older Barbara. She sees Barbara as a wise, comforting friend, a contrast to her own mother in many ways.
Sheba confides in Barbara and as the shit hits the fan, Barbara finds herself perfectly placed to be the centre of Sheba’s world.
It’s all about the details
As the book goes on, it’s clear that Sheba doesn’t see the real Barbara, in fact, not many people do at all… Barbara is one of the most intriguing narrators I’ve come across in a while. She is a study in loneliness and as we get everything from her POV, it’s as you’re reading that you realise she has a slightly deluded take on her world that tips deliciously into sinister territory.
An element I loved that added so much to the plot and character depth were the references to more incidental moments and ideas. From the way Sheba’s mother speaks to her, to Barbara’s relationship with the head teacher, to takes on motherhood, to the character’s names. The names feel specifically picked to enhance the characters. Along with Sheba’s beguiling first name, her surname is Hart, and Barbara’s is Covett. These details are all perfect and very cleverly done.
Notes… add to your TBR
Notes on a Scandal is a one of those books I was so excited to get back to when I paused reading it. I literally couldn’t put it down! It builds tension, builds characters, has deeply dry moments that made me laugh out loud and the overall tone and writing style was a joy to read.
Don’t leave it on your TBR for as long as I did.
- Get your copy of Notes on a Scandal here;
- Published by Viking 2003;
- 244 pages;
- My rating: