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Notes on a Scandal: What Was She Thinking?: A Novel
by Zoë Heller
ISBN 0312426097 / 9780312426095 / 0-312-42609-7
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Zoe Heller juggles journalism and novel-writing successfully in What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal and manages to say something interesting and complex about moral panics and the people who get caught up in them. Pottery teacher Sheba lets herself be talked into an affair with 15-year-old pupil Connolly; part of what is admirable about this novel is that there is no real attempt to extenuate this--it's wrong and she knows this from the start, enough to lie to herself and others about it. It's an abuse of her very limited power--he is one of the few of her pupils interested in art, not interested in perpetually disrupting her lessons.
Sheba is not alone in abusing power, though, and Heller forces us to confront this unpleasant truth about the moralising, managerial headmaster, the husband freed by Sheba's action to seduce his own very slightly older students, and the relatives who never liked her much and can now disown her. Above all, she devotes most of the novel to Barbara, the older colleague who becomes Sheba's confidante and slowly manipulates the situation to make Sheba entirely dependent on her. This is a brilliantly gloomy study in obsession--and the obsession in question is not actually Sheba's with her underage lover. --Roz Kaveney [via]