Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Notes on a Scandal" by Zoë Heller

What was she thinking?

That's actually the original title of this book; Notes on a Scandal was initially just the subtitle. But once the story was made into a Major Motion Picture, the title of the movie became the title of later editions of the book. (I hear that's often the case.) As much as I hate the thought of a book changing as a result of its movie adaptation, I think this change was a good one.

Throughout the story, the titular notes are recorded by Barbara, a lonely, obsessive older woman who teaches at the same school as the perpetrator of the scandal: attractive 40-something Sheba who is pursued by a 15-year old student and eventually ends up having an affair with him. And, since all of the information we receive is filtered through Barbara, do we ever really know what Sheba was thinking?

Even if all we get is Barbara's spin on the situation, I think hearing it through a third party was important in allowing the reader to sympathize with Sheba. Barbara was able to humanize the "how could she" element of the teacher/student story that comes up in the news every now and then. I was grudgingly forced to see how she could have finally ended up in a mess, and how it wasn't a simple, cut-and-dried, snap decision. Even so, I never did get rid of the "she shouldn't have" attitude. As the adult in the equation, it was Sheba's job to realize where to draw the line.

I enjoyed reading the book (even if Sheba was a bit squicky and Barbara was a bit creepy) and have enjoyed mulling it all over since I finished reading. Why, exactly, was Barbara recording all of the details of the scandal? Her claim was that she thought it would help in court; however, she either didn't realize her notes would only serve to incriminate her (as an accessory), or that wasn't her true reason. And how, exactly, did Sheba feel about Barbara? Perhaps she initially allowed her friendship with Barbara to develop because Barbara seemed to offer support rather than judgment . . . but by the end it's difficult to tell if Barbara is still around because Sheba doesn't have the energy to end the friendship, or if Sheba actually appreciates Barbara's presence.

I was a bit disappointed in the ending; I guess I wanted something to happen. But when I mull over possible conclusions, I can only come up with what seems to be the inevitable trial and prison sentence, which I can't see adding anything to the book.

I know this may be the most boring blog post I've ever written, but at least it's done now, so I can start reading something new . . .


Ti said...

I've heard of this book before but I thought it would be more... dare I say it, scandalous.

I didn't know it was made into a movie, though.

Kathy said...

I only found out it was made into a movie when I was looking online for a photo of the book cover--surprising, since Cate Blanchett starred in it! I would kind of like to see it now . . .