What was she Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal]

One of my book groups read Zoë Heller’s The Believers a couple of months ago. I voted for reading it only after I was told that she also wrote Notes on a Scandal as I liked the film enough to see it three times. After the book group to discuss The Believers, which I did not love, I asked the host if he’d lend me Notes on a Scandal.

What was she Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] I got into the book right away, being so familiar with the story. Normally I use clues from the book about what the characters look like and create images in my head, but was unable to do that this time — seeing only Cate Blanchett as Sheba, Judy Dench as Barbara and Bill Nighy as Sheba’s husband. Not that any of those images was a bad thing, I did feel a little cheated that my brain couldn’t conjure up my own images.

About a third of the way through the book I felt as if I were slowly slogging through a warm swamp and I wonder if I would have  put the book down had I not seen the film. Or perhaps the fact that I did know what was coming made it seem to move slowly, but comfortably.

In case you’ve not seen the film or read the book, here’s a brief synopsis: Sheba, a 30-something art teacher at a school in London, married to her former professor and mother of two children, including a boy with Down Syndrome, becomes sexually involved with a 16 year-old student. The story is told through the diary of a 60-something spinster fellow teacher who positions herself in the right places at the right times so as to be Sheba’s confidant.

As in The Believers, there are no real likable characters and they do unfortunate things for incomprehensible reasons.

I’m not sure I’ll ever slog through another of Zoë Heller’s books. Reading them is like looking at photos of Diane Arbus. Neither pretties up their subjects. They both show you the plain, and often ugly, truth. I’d rather have my truth sugar coated, or at least clothed.

May 18, 2010. Tags: , , . 2010, 3 star, fiction.

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