Book Reviews / Books

Review: Notes on a Scandal – Zoë Heller


Notes on a ScandalI’m generally of the belief that one shouldn’t watch a film without reading the book first, and as a stickler for habit it was only recently that I found myself reading Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal, despite having already seen the screen adaptation.

Way’s Bookshop in Henley, a traditional secondhand and antiquarian bookshop is situated on the corner of Friday Street, and is my favourite kind of place. Intimate and cosy with shelves upon shelves of books, I spent a heavenly hour rifling through their impressive selection before coming across Notes on a Scandal. I remembered enjoying the  film, and finding Judi Dench’s character rather disturbing, but as it had been a while since I’d seen it, I had only a vague recollection of how the plot concluded and thus happily parted with a mere pound for the paperback. Later that day, armed with my favourite accompaniment to a book – a big mug of hot, sweet, tea – I began reading and within twenty-four hours I had finished.

Published in 2003, the plot follows the exploits of Sheba Hart as she begins an extra-marital affair with one of her pupils, while simultaneously dealing with an intense, creepy female colleague – Barbara Covett. The characters are beautifully written; Covett’s especially so, whose dependancy on Sheba and numerous idiosyncrasies really bring the character to life.

The book is incredibly fast-paced with an impending sense of doom from start to finish that leaves the reader wanting more. If you’re looking for a compelling page turner or a dark tale that will get you out of a reading rut, few will suffice quite as well as Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal.

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About Notes on a Scandal

Schoolteacher Barbara Covett has led a solitary life until Sheba Hart, the new art teacher at St. George’s, befriends her. But even as their relationship develops, so too does another: Sheba has begun an illicit affair with an underage male student. When the scandal turns into a media circus, Barbara decides to write an account in her friend’s defense—and ends up revealing not only Sheba’s secrets, but also her own.

About Zoe Heller

Zoe Heller was born in London in 1965 and educated at Oxford University and Columbia University, New York. She is a journalist who, after writing book reviews for various newspapers, became a feature writer for The Independent. She wrote a weekly confessional column for the Sunday Times for four years, but now writes for the Daily Telegraph and earned the title ‘Columnist of the Year’ in 2002.

She is the author of three novels: Everything You Know (2000), a dark comedy about misanthropic writer Willy Miller, Notes on a Scandal (2003) which tells the story of an affair between a high school teacher and her student through the eyes of the teacher’s supposed friend, Barbara Covett and her latest – The Believers (2008).

Zoe Heller lives in New York.

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