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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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 KaveneyReview:
"An intense, witty, literary page-turner"--"Entertainment Weekly" "Equally adroit at satire and at psychological suspense, Zoe Heller charts the course of a predatory friendship and demonstrates the lengths to which some people go for human company."--"The New Yorker" "A deliciously perverse, laugh-out-loud-funny novel."--"Vogue" "A triumph of intelligence and narrative control."--"The Times" (London) "Heller is a great ventriloquist of character, and as the unhinged curator of the Sheba affair, Barbara is painfully note perfect."--"The Washington Post Book World" "Wicked and wonderful social satire."--"Glamour"
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