Barbara Covett is a high school teacher in her early 60s – a veteran educator who knows the ins and outs of the teaching life yet lives a lonely, unremarkable and slightly bitter life. When the attractive, stylish and slightly clueless Sheba Hart comes to St Gregory to teach pottery, Barbara latches on to the possibility of finally having a friend and confidante. The two strike up a friendship, albeit an uneven one where Barbara’s feelings towards her new friend are much stronger than those of the younger and wealthier Sheba, who is married to a famous economist and has two children. When Barbara, and later the school, discovers that Sheba is having an affair with a 15-year-old student, their lives start to unravel.
Notes on a Scandal is told entirely from the point of view of the seemingly placid Barbara as she documents the affair, the scandal and the inevitable downfall of Sheba – she is forced to move out of her family’s home and into Barbara’s. As the older woman starts to gain the power in the co-dependent relationship between the two, her desperation for meaning, importance and companionship reveal her unreliability as a narrator.
Darkly humorous, sinister and unfailingly told by Zoë Heller, the novel offers an uncomfortably astute glimpse into the loneliness, insecurities and the intricacies of a convoluted female friendship.
“Notes on a Scandal finds an elegant balance between dark comedy and tragedy,” said the Guardian in a review. “Heller handles it with wry grace, managing to mock her characters without allowing their story to tip into farce,” said the New York Times.
The book was turned into an Academy Award-nominated film starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett in 2006.
Published in 2003.