Zoë Heller: Notes on a Scandal – review

Author: Zoë Heller
Publish Date: 5 June 2003
Genre: Realism
Audience: Adult fiction

I chose to read this novel as it was featured on the ‘Wider Reading’ list for my English Literature AS due to its central theme of forbidden love. The strong focus on a student/teacher relationship is contrasted with the protagonist’s suppressed lesbianism, and both topics considerably took my interest throughout the novel.

One of my favourite parts about this novel is the way the story is told. Despite focusing on the relationship between teacher Sheba and her student Steven Connolly, the tale is solely narrated through Sheba’s close friend and colleague Barbara; this form of narrative allows a vast amount of bias to creep through, making the novel both humorous and subject to interpretation. It also manages to create dramatic irony through the characters’ actions which adds immediate depth to the novel’s plot.

Another aspect of ‘Notes on a Scandal’ which really grabbed my attention was the quality of writing. Not only did it carry the story effortlessly, it had me hooked from the beginning to the very end as it weaved flashbacks with the present, and cruel realities with idealised fantasies. The situations which the characters’ are faced with are extremely intriguing, and make you stop and think about the morality and integrity surrounding them.

What let me down, however, was the ending – don’t worry, I won’t give any spoilers. The last chapter or so entailed a predictable and inevitable ending, and the climatic section was incredibly enthralling despite, as a reader, knowing the outcome from the beginning. However, the novel ended on a particularly ambiguous note which didn’t exactly leave me wanting more, only frustrated at its anti-climatic nature.

Having said that, the last few lines were very intriguing; for most, a whole new theory is uncovered which perhaps changes the atmosphere of the whole novel. I possessed knowledge of this aspect before I began reading, and I could definitely recognise moments which backed up this notion – for those concocting their own theory at the end, I highly suggest a re-read.

Overall, ‘Notes on a Scandal’ was an enjoyable quick read in which theories were conjured up and morals were thoroughly questioned. The anti-climatic ending did spoil the overall aura to a certain, albeit small, extent; however the writing style and narrative is absolutely superb and completely satisfies this intriguing tale.

Next read: ‘The Reader’ by Bernhard Schlink

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