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review 2015-12-17 00:00
What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal]
What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] - Zoë Heller Ok, this read was for my book (and also watch the movie) club. It started slow, and never really grabbed my attention. The premise was a bit like [b:Tampa|17225311|Tampa|Alissa Nutting|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1393784199s/17225311.jpg|23731028] and that didn't go well for me. After being pretty unimpressed with the book, I rented the movie only to realize that I had seen the film 10 or so years ago. Talk about not leaving an impression.
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text 2014-09-18 19:30
Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller
What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] - Zoë Heller

I will keep this review brief, because there are several reviews that do a much better job than I will in describing the excellence that is Notes on a Scandal

Zoë Heller's novel does raise certain questions and moral dilemmas. Is a teacher ever permitted to indulge in a sexual/romantic relationship with his/hers student? Is it possible for the younger participant to be the culprit? How should media react and report on these kinds of matters? Who carries the blame? Can these kinds of relationships ever be equal?

Barbra, who is telling us the story of pottery teacher Sheba's relationship to her student Connolly, questions all this. She is willing to see both sides of the story, but mostly Sheba's involvement, blame, and feelings. Through Barbra, a complex character, we're introduced to Sheba's equally complex character. The relationship between Sheba and Connolly might appear innocent enough in the beginning, and romantic in the middle. It's not the regular type of romance, or story for that matter. Somewhere after half of the book, the tone of their relationship changes and we get to see that even the young people here might be deceiving. Another part that is done well is the media aspect. How the media exposure affects Sheba, and also her relationship to Barbra. Because even if this story is about Sheba and her journey, it also involves Barbra's own life as she becomes Sheba's chief defender. 

Thought provoking and beautifully written, Notes on a Scandal deserves to be read and discussed. Well done, Heller!

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review 2014-07-03 19:28
Notes on a Scandal
What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] - Zoë Heller

I kind of hated this book when I first read it, but even then I couldn't deny that it was, of course, very well-written.

 

Actually, I kind of (to use a phrase from HBO's GIRLS, which I never thought I would) "love-hate-read" this book. I was really interested in the premise, but I thought the execution and the endless soliloquies of the lonely Barbara became tiresome.

 

BUT. BUT BUT BUT. The movie (which I think is really quite good) got me re-interested in it and, because the movie relied a lot on text from the book, I reexamined my feelings on it.

The book really is very good. I kind of took for granted the themes it voraciously explores: loneliness, connection. It's less about the teacher-student sex scandal (in fact, it's really not about that at all, which can be confusing) and more about "the exquisite and painful loneliness" of one woman; the utter solitude this older teacher feels. As she writes faithfully in her diary and pets her cat, Portia, she has nothing to do but ruminate in her own mind. There's a scene in the movie in which Judi Dench (portraying the older character) says (paraphrasing the book): that Sheba (younger teacher) knows nothing of the utter solitude of Barbara's life; she does not know what it's like to build excitement over an entire weekend over one appointment with the hairdresser just because one is able to leave the house. She does not know what it's like to be "chronically untouched" so that even the accidental brush of someone's hand against yours when exchanging money sends some kind of jolt of human recognition through you. (This isn't necessarily sexual---it's just human contact).

 

Anyway, the book is more a fabulous study of solitude and loneliness and interpersonal need. It's a FABULOUS character study of Barbara, the "lonely woman" (I'm reminded of The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, which I never finished reading). It is not, however, a successful portrayal or explanation of why a grown female teacher sexually abuses her teenage student. (Also, let it be said that part of the titillation factor with this book/movie was that it was a female sex offender and a male teenager. People seem to think this configuration is less "predatory" than that of male sex offenders and younger teenage girls. "But he, as a teenage boy, pursued her!" they say. I'm sticking to the firm and fast truth that it doesn't matter if a teenager strips naked and tries to sit on an adult's lap--kids don't know what they're doing, and, at the very least, they cannot consent to sex with a legal adult. So there's that.)

 

Anyway. This is a very insightful book---just not for what it's marketed. It's really a close character study of feelings and intimacy, not a racy book about a sex scandal. In fact, "Notes on a Scandal" is a much better title than "What Was She Thinking?" because the book never tells us what Sheba was thinking and doesn't concern itself with that. The book's scope almost considers Sheba's abuse of her student "beneath the story": it wants to tell Barbara's tale of solitude and longing; and, in that, it succeeds superlatively.

 

Definitely read! If you want well-written words, utter wit, and the comfortably wonderful and sharp writing to which we bibliophiles are accustomed, give it a read!

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review 2013-10-29 18:22
Insidious Little Story
Notes on a Scandal: What Was She Thinking? - Zoë Heller
The Blurb:
 
“From the first day that the beguiling Sheba Hart joins the staff of St. George’s history teacher Barbara Covett is convinced she has found a kindred spirit.
 
Barbara’s loyalty to her new friend is passionate and unstinting and when Sheba is discovered to be having an illicit affair with one of her young pupils, Barbara quickly elects herself as Sheba’s chief defender. But all is not as it first seems in this dark story and, as Sheba will soon discover, a friend can be just as treacherous as any lover.”
 
==============================================================
 
 
“Insidious”. That is the word that sprang into my mind while reading this book. And although the blurb seems to indicate that this insidiousness only becomes clear near the end of the story, it is obvious to the reader almost from the very first page.
 
While it may appear that this is the story about an affair between a rather foolish 40-something female teacher and a fifteen year old schoolboy, this really is a story about one older spinster becoming obsessed with a younger colleague and going to great lengths to make herself indispensable in the life of her “victim”. Even at the beginning of the story it is clear that Barbara is anything but the efficient teacher and loyal friends she sees herself as. This story is told by Barbara and even as she tells the story about Sheba’s inappropriate behaviour and its consequences, even while she tries to paint a picture of herself as a wonderful person trying to help a person she loves, it is very clear that there is something wrong with her feelings and actions. It is Barbara herself who informs the reader about “misunderstandings” between herself and other teachers. It is Barbara who tells us that a former friend accused her of being “too intense” and it is she who confesses to being jealous when Sheba appears to be getting close to another of their colleagues. Barbara’s creepiness is at its clearest when she admits to having highlighted the “important” – read “most incriminating” – parts of Sheba’s story using gold stars, with the moment she finds out about the affair warranting two stars.
 
A good book, but not a very nice or pleasant read. While the story fascinated me in the same way a horror movie might – I didn’t really want to watch it unfold but couldn’t look away either – it failed to capture me. It all seemed just a little bit too much to me; Sheba a little bit too infatuated and silly, Barbara a little bit too sociopathic, Richard a little bit too dim, Sheba’s mother a little bit too horrible and Steven a little bit too predatory. It felt almost as if I were reading about caricatures rather than characters. In fact, I couldn’t help feeling that this story was written in a way very similar to the sensational newspaper articles Barbara professes to despair of yet appears to have read in detail.
 
And yet, I couldn’t put the book down either. I had to continue reading until the very end, which wasn’t really an ending if you think about it. And I’ve got a feeling that I will be thinking about everything that might or might not happen after the story ends for quite some time. In fact, I can’t wait to discuss this book with my reading group in a few days. I’ve got a feeling opinions on this one are going to be divided and that should make for a very interesting meeting. I may not have enjoyed reading this book very much, but I am thoroughly impressed with the way in which the author managed to tell such a horrific story in what were, on first impression, very innocent terms.
 
“There are certain people in whom you can detect the seeds of madness – seeds that have remained dormant only because the people in question have lived relatively comfortable middle-class lives”
Source: meen-readingjournal.blogspot.ie/2013/10/notes-on-scandal.html
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video 2013-05-25 21:55

Book Haul, Book Mug, BookLikes and other things | May 2013

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