Notes on a Scandal

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9780141012254: Notes on a Scandal

When the new teacher first arrives, Barbara immediately senses that this woman will be different from the rest of her staff-room colleagues. But Barbara is not the only one to feel that Sheba is special, and before too long Sheba is involved in an illicit affair with a pupil. Barbara finds the relationship abhorrent, of course, but she is the only adult in whom Sheba can properly confide. So when the liaison is found out and Sheba's life falls apart, Barbara is there...

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Notes on a Scandal

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Zoe Heller juggles journalism and novel-writing successfully in Notes on a Scandal and manages to say something interesting and complex about moral panics and the people who get caught up in them.

Pottery teacher Sheba lets herself be talked into an affair with 15-year-old pupil Connolly; part of what is admirable about this novel is that there is no real attempt to extenuate this--it's wrong and she knows this from the start, enough to lie to herself and others about it. It's an abuse of her very limited power--he is one of the few of her pupils interested in art, not interested in perpetually disrupting her lessons.

Sheba is not alone in abusing power, though, and Heller forces us to confront this unpleasant truth about the moralising, managerial headmaster, the husband freed by Sheba's action to seduce his own very slightly older students, and the relatives who never liked her much and can now disown her. Above all, she devotes most of the novel to Barbara, the older colleague who becomes Sheba's confidante and slowly manipulates the situation to make Sheba entirely dependent on her. This is a brilliantly gloomy study in obsession--and the obsession in question is not actually Sheba's with her underage lover. --Roz Kaveney

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