Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller and 3 days in a nutshell

Notes on a Scandal: What Was She Thinking?
Zoe Heller
Published 2003
Picador Fiction
259 pages

You never appreciate what a compost your memory is until you start trying to smooth past events into a rational sequence.

The subtitle of Notes on a Scandal: What Was She Thinking? really describes the objective of the book - to attempt to unravel a thought process that is difficult, maybe even impossible, to fully comprehend. Rather than a suspenseful, edge-of-the-seat tale of scandal, the book is slow and contemplative; the whole idea revolving around that effort to crawl into the head of someone who committed an illegal act but somehow managed to justify it to herself, in order to figure out what on earth she was thinking.

Barbara is a loner, not particularly attractive but not ugly, either. Still, she's a very solitary person and it excites her when the beautiful new teacher at St. George's school, Sheba Hart, begins to reach out to Barbara and a friendship blossoms. Early in their friendship, Sheba poses a "hypothetical" question about the attraction of a young, male student by the name of Steven Connelly. Barbara tells Sheba very firmly to put a stop to Connelly's advances and report him to the headmaster. Sheba says she couldn't possibly have him punished for having a crush on her and says nothing further. But, later, it becomes obvious to Barbara that even at that time, Sheba was covering up the truth, possibly trying to get Barbara to help her justify her actions.

It is irritating when Sheba talks this way - as if she were a passive victim of fate, rather than the principal architect of her own suffering.

The reader knows, at the beginning of the book, that Sheba has been caught in a scandal, that her affair with a 15-year-old boy has been discovered and the press has exaggerated the story. The book is not only an examination of Sheba's reasoning, but also Barbara's attempt to logically order events, to explain how the affair came into being. That the press has distorted the issue in many ways is plainly stated. It's also obvious there will be no great, explosive ending. Sheba has been arrested and kicked out of her home; she'll undoubtedly go to jail and is too disconsolate to do anything dramatic in order to attempt to save herself. Notes on a Scandal is a quiet, pensive book that delves into the personalities involved. The narrator comes to her own conclusion, but the author still leaves room for her reader to decide for his or herself.

While there's nothing overwhelmingly exciting about the book, I'm pretty sure that it was intended to be a quiet, reflective book and - if that's the case - the author succeeded; the story is told with a skillful hand. There were times that I found I either strongly agreed or disagreed with a character in some way or another, but in spite of the fact that Barbara could be very opinionated, I never felt like the narrator was really preaching.

There was a tense silence for a moment or so, which was broken by Richard saying, “It’s difficult isn’t it, Barbara? One pretends that manners are the formalization of basic kindness and consideration, but a great deal of the time they’re simply aesthetics dressed up as moral principles, aren’t they?” . . .

I rather thought that he was a pretentious fool, but I kept that to myself.

You tell 'em, Barb.

3.5/5 - good writing, relevant story (this kind of affair has happened and created quite a sensation, in the U.S.) and an interesting approach but the pace is very slow and it's probably not for everyone.

Yesterday . . . I wore my snowflake earrings. They didn't cool me off, but thinking about them made me smile.

Today . . . The local newspaper says we are in the midst of "Heat Wave: Phase Two". I think that's how they put it. I'm too tired to go look. Hubby went to fetch kiddo from the pool and came home drenched. He suddenly understands why I was so completely wrecked, this weekend, and why I'm so upset that the school administration is not doing anything to keep the kids out of the worst of the heat.

Tomorrow . . . The heat index is supposed to hit 116 and there is a mandatory outdoor football/band event to "introduce" the football team. Like we care to send our kids out there just so they can name the football players. Call them #5 or #10; I'm fine with that. The event has not been canceled or postponed, due to heat. Morons.

I'm reading . . . Everyman by Philip Roth. I'm finding it rather dull, so far, but we'll see if that continues.

I've been piling up . . . creepy books, in preparation for the RIP Challenge.

Someday, I'll find the time to . . . post about recent awards I've been tagged for and actually read the latest RIP rules. I'm doing a lot of skimming, when I have a minute to sit and blog-hop. Apologies for not having time to do a Wahoo! post. Here's one wahooey photo, to make up for it - a dragonfly on a dead something in my front yard:

Hopefully, my life will normalize, sometime soon. We shall see. May many wahoos fill your life, today and always.


  1. Notes on a Scandal is on my wish list, both in book and film form. I enjoyed your review a great deal.

    116°??? In band uniforms??? I'd call Child Protective Services. If I put my children in uniforms and made them march around the neighborhood for five minutes in 116° weather, I'd be thrown in jail. But for the band, it's considered school spirit.

    That's just so ... wrong.

  2. Thanks, Cupcake, I'm glad you enjoyed the review.

    116 heat index, not actual temp. They will have matching t-shirts and shorts, which they refer to as the "summer uniform", not the wood uniforms, thank goodness. I would send a letter refusing to allow my son to participate if they went that far. But, I still think it's wrong. They haven't attempted to move practice to early morning. Those poor kids are facing the west when they march at afternoon practice - while the director has the sun at his back. I think it's cruel and . . . yep, just wrong.

    Guess when they get their summer uniform t-shirts? Tomorrow. See, I could just protest about not having time to wash out the formaldehyde. Just get me started.

  3. Make that "wool" uniforms. Sigh. I am so, so tired.

  4. Bookfool, that band/football thing in that heat is totally crazy for all involved. I'd be mad, too.

    That dragonfly is huge. We had some that size hitting the windshield when driving through Kansas this summer. I've never seen dragonflies so huge! Great picture, though. Amazing wings.

  5. Temp or heat index - 116 is too hot for kids to be doing anything! They don't even make Marines train when the heat index is that high, for pity's sake!

    All the parents should get together and refuse to let their kids participate. I mean, what are they going to do if most of the kids don't show up because the parents have some common sense?


  6. Nice review! I've passed by this one once or twice. One of these days, I'll have to pick it up!

    Glad to see you on the yahoo site. Paul's been my reading buddy for awhile now, and he invited me over a few months back.

    116! Looks like I got out of the South just in time! Heat Index today was close 96, but by next week, it's supposed to cool down some. Tomorrow is the official first day of school, but we are on heat schedule until after Labor Day. Boo to your school for not canceling!

  7. Nancy, check out this photo site, especially the "twin" of your dragonfly:

    Actually, I came here to tell you I'd found this photography blog and then discovered you had also posted a dragonfly. The blog is Looking Into, located here:

  8. Booklogged,

    Thanks. I always feel kind of helpless when it comes to school issues, here - nobody seems to agree with me about much of anything. I should probably get vocal about the heat, though, since it can easily kill.

    We grow our insects in size extra large, down here. And, thank you. :)


    Really? I didn't know that.

    I'm afraid the parents are pretty disinterested in health, from what I've seen. They're kind of a weird bunch. I went to one booster meeting and made my husband go to the rest, last year, because it was just so weird. They were planning to sell raffle tickets with a gun as the prize. Only two of us thought that was a bad idea - a school group giving away a gun. Fortunately, someone did manage to stop them.


    I thought the book lived up to my expectations. Hope you like it, if and when you get around to reading.

    I'm always excited about joining new reading groups. And, I particularly love it when men are involved - most of the reading groups I've been in have been all female. A little variety is nice. :)

    Yeah, 116 is a pretty high heat index, even for us. You had a lucky escape. August is too early to start school in the Deep South; it's our worst month. I'm baffled.


    That's a much nicer dragonfly photo! He looks a little closer to the dragonfly in my sidebar, don't you think? Love that bottle blue color.

    Thanks for the URL!

  9. I can't believe how hot it is over there, here in the UK it is really cold and rainy at the moment but I wish I could pass some of it to you so you get some relief from the heat!

    I enjoyed your review of the book, I really didn't enjoy reading it when I read it a few years ago but I might try and reread it to see if I get a different impression the second time.

  10. Are you planning on watching the movie, if you haven't already? Doesn't sound like there is enough of a plot to have made much of a movie, but it got good reviews.

  11. Notes on a Scandal sounds like a fascinating read...and as you mention, this is not such an unusual situation any more.

    Mississippi has really suffered from the heat this summer. Hope the earrings are a promise of cooler temps!


    I'd happily take some of your rain and cool air (or drop in and soak it up). This has just been a weird summer for us - first intense heat and drought, then a month of rain, and back to intense heat. Yeeuck.

    I think I enjoyed the book because of the way she approached the story in a rather analytical way. But, it's not one I'd ever reread, myself.


    I probably will, eventually, if only because Judi Dench plays Barbara. If anyone can portray the subtleties of the story, she can. But, I'm in no hurry. Yeah, there's not a whole lot of plot. I think one of the things the author did right was to keep the length at a minimum.

  13. Have you watched the movie? Is it pretty much the same?

  14. Jenclair,

    It's definitely interesting; not gripping, but interesting. The fact that it's really happened kind of boggles my mind.

    I'm trying to hide from the heat as much as possible. Mountains sound nice. :)


    I haven't seen the movie, yet, but I hope to. :)

  15. That's far too hot for band practice! Crazy! The most I spend outdoors at the moment is 10-15 minutes at a time, only as long as it takes me to walk to the station or get where I'm going.
    The thought of your snowflake earrings made me smile too!
    Try to stay cool!!

  16. Nat,

    Same here. I'm back to drawing the shades and minimizing my outdoor time to only time I *must* spend outside.

    I think I'll go put those snowflake earrings on, again. I just stepped outside and got instantly sweaty. You really have to feel for people who work outdoors, this time of year.

  17. I had no idea what Notes on a Scandal was about, so thanks for the introduction and a great review!

    I've heard Everyman is generally a "meh" book. My friends and I (as a result of one of our former professor's obsession and specialization in Roth studies) are all Roth nuts. Their "meh's" are why I haven't bothered with it. I did allllmost buy Portnoy's Complaint today, though.

  18. Ok trying to send some of it your way ------------

  19. Awesome picture! It looks like it's hanging on for dear life, especially when viewed in the enlarged size.

    I've been piling books up for Carl's challenge, hoping to get my list posted tonight or tomorrow. There's just never enough time in the day, is there?

    My wish for you is cooler, calmer days.

  20. 116? And they want the kids outside? That's insane.

    Notes on A Scandal sounds fairly intriguing from that description. I might have to read it now.

    I can't believe RIP challenge is starting again already. Didn't it just end a week or two ago?

    I'm getting way behind on blog reading myself. Oh well. Life happens.

  21. Andi,

    I think I must have read a review of the movie; I knew exactly what the book was about and the author kind of lays it out, up front, so there are no huge surprises. Sometimes a little predictability (if done well) can make for comfortable reading, although the topic is suitably thought-provoking.

    I've managed to misplace Everyman, today. "Meh" is right. But, I'll go ahead and finish it when I find the book. And, I'll give him a second chance, since I've heard such great things about Roth. :)


    Thanks! We're really tired of sweating. :)


    That dragonfly does look like he's gripping his weed pretty fiercely, doesn't he? Funny.

    I keep finding more creepy books. There's no way I'll read even half of them, but it's nice to have plenty of variety to choose from.

    And, thanks. I was so worn out and headachy, today, that hubby took off to take over my routine while I tried to sleep off the migraine that's been dogging me. He now understands why I'm so tired and frustrated! Well, that's nice. :)

  23. Carrie,

    Fortunately, it didn't reach that level of intensity and the kids were inside when hubby dropped the kiddo off at band. He's out there, right now, doing the "Meet the Football Players" thing. My husband's done all the driving, today, and he is having an attack of empathy for both of us. :)

    I thought Notes on a Scandal was better than expected, but it's not a book I'd reread. If you do read it, let me know what you think.

    It's too hot for the RIP! And, yeah, it seems like it just ended yesterday. Time goes way too fast. But, I've been looking forward to a second round.

    I'm behind on everything - sleep, blogging, blog-hopping, laundry. Maybe next week will be an improvement. One can only hope. :)

  24. You have my sympathies and I'm sending cooling thoughts your direction! You need a break in this awful heat!! I suffered from heat exhaustion when I was in high school, and I've never been the same. My inner thermometer was damaged, I think, and I can't tolerate much heat...which is a big part of the reason we moved to the northwest. I hope they keep the band well hydrated!

  25. I've never really been interested in this book/movie - the subject matter I guess. I could tell you about 3 different incidents at my high school - while I was there.

    Ugh - so hot! It seems summer has given up on us here - it's rainy and cool. No more days at the pool for us. Sigh.

  26. Robin,

    I've been through the same; I don't think you ever fully recover from messed-up electrolytes. But, I still live in the South. I don't think my experience swayed my husband at all. Thanks for the cool thoughts.

    The heat wasn't quite as bad as they anticipated, but kiddo was all beet red and went to bed early. It would be nice to at least get down to the 80's. :)


    I picked up the book and considered it, put it back, picked it up, and finally gave in. I think it was more a curiosity because the book was an award-winner than anything else that piqued my interest. I'm glad I read it and I'd read more by the author, but I can understand why you'd choose to avoid it if the subject matter hits too close to home.

    Rainy and cool sounds nice. Kiddo loves outdoor pool days, but I'd be perfectly happy to get him out of the sun. :)

  27. Anonymous5:02 AM

    The dragonfly is excellent!

  28. Thanks, Heather. :)

  29. The book sounds interesting. I totally dig your dragonfly picture.

  30. Myutopia,

    I thought the book was better than expected - definitely thought-provoking.

    And, thank you. I love the way you put that - "I dig your dragonfly picture". It made me smile.


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