Thursday, 3 October 2013
157/111 - Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
I bought this book just before the new Stephen King novel came out as I was interested in it. It always seems to have gotten a lot of attention and it was always in book displays when I was working at Waterstones, but for whatever reason I had never read it, so I downloaded a copy to read on my iPhone while I waited for the new book to come out. It just so happened that I didn't finish it before the new book came out, so there was an overlap of half an evening or something like that.
Most people will probably know the story of this as it's pretty well-know, but just to re-cap, Sheba is a new pottery teacher at a secondary school in London, who ends up having an affair with a 15-year-old pupil. The novel is narrated by Barbara, another teacher, after the affair has ended. Sheba has been caught and is in quite a bit of trouble, and Barbara is the only person she has standing by her side. Barbara starts writing an account of the incidents and their relationship just to have a record of it, which is how we find out the story and how we get an insight into their relationship. We soon find out that Barbara is an unreliable narrator (classic!) and that her version of events is quite polluted by the fact that she is pretty much barking mad. As it turns out, Barbara is pretty much obsessed with Sheba, in a vaguely romantic way, but it's not altogether explicit what she thinks is really going on in their relationship.
I really enjoyed this, I liked the way the story unfolded and I loved reading it through Barbara's eyes. None of the characters were particularly likeable, which wasn't a problem because they were all very interesting in their own horrible ways. I got really irritated that Sheba was such a fool and that she couldn't see through Barbara's manipulation and that she was such a wet blanket of a person, I guess.
A couple of days after finishing the book, I also rented the film on iTunes to watch for a couple of pounds, which was great. I really enjoyed the movie, especially Judi Dench playing Barbara as you don't really see her playing villains much, although she can be very hard-nosed I guess. Cate Blanchett played Sheba, and she was also very good at playing this slightly flighty woman who manages to delude herself that having an affair with a pupil is somehow okay. It plays out a little differently to the book and the ending seems to be more hopeful in the film, but I didn't really mind that much.
I'm not sure I get the obsession with the teen boy thing. This is the third book I've read in a little while where an older woman sort of falls for a teenage boy, which is certainly not my cup of tea, and I remember them being pretty ghastly overall. Definitely not for me.