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What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal: A Novel Paperback – June 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (June 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312421990
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312421991
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (225 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #255,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Subtitled Notes on a Scandal, Heller's engrossing second novel (after Everything You Know) is actually the story of two inappropriate obsessions-one a consummated affair between a high school teacher and her student, the other a secret passion harbored by a dowdy spinster. Sheba Hart, a new 40ish art teacher at a London school for working-class kids, has been arrested for having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student, Steven Connolly. The papers are having a blast. Sheba is herself the object of fascination for her older colleague and defender, Barbara Covett, whose interest in Sheba is not overtly romantic but has an erotic-and at times malevolent-intensity. Barbara narrates the story of Sheba's affair while inadvertently revealing her own obsession and her pivotal role in the scandal. The novel is gripping from start to finish; Heller brings vivid, nuanced characterizations to the racy story. Sheba is upper-class, arty, carelessly beautiful in floaty layers of clothing, with a full life of her own: doting older husband, impossible adolescent daughter, a son with Down's Syndrome, real if underdeveloped talent as a potter. She never got a driver's license, she tells Barbara, because she is always given rides; people want to do things for her. Barbara's respectable maiden-lady exterior hides a bitter soul that feasts on others' real and imagined shortcomings: one colleague's carelessly shaved armpits, another's risible baseball jacket. Even characters on stage for a minute (a Camden barman who hams it up for Barbara) live and breathe.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Barbara Covett, a sixtyish history teacher, is the kind of unmarried-woman-with-cat whose female friends sooner or later decide she is "too intense." Thus when a beautiful new pottery teacher, Sheba Hart—a "wispy novice with a tinkly accent and see-through skirts"—chooses Barbara as a confidante, she is deeply, even rather sinisterly, gratified. Sheba's secret is explosive: married with two kids, she is having an affair with a fifteen-year-old student. The novel, Heller's second, is Barbara's supposedly objective "history" of the affair and its eventual discovery, written furtively while she and her friend are holed up in a borrowed house, waiting for Sheba's court date. Barbara has appointed herself Sheba's "unofficial guardian," protecting her from the salivating tabloids. Equally adroit at satire and at psychological suspense, Heller charts the course of a predatory friendship and demonstrates the lengths to which some people go for human company.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Story very well written.
S. Reich
That said, it has much in common with this book, and Something Happened is, in many ways, the better book.
Bill R. Moore
All is not what it seems and the author does a wonderful job making these characters very real people.
sb-lynn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Bill R. Moore on July 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
The title of this book by Joseph Heller is "Something Happened." Another title could have been "Life: The Book." This is one of the very, very few books I know that accurately and realistically portrays real life - life as it actually is - warts and all. The book I read immediately before this one was James Joyce's much-touted masterwork, Ulysses. Now, that book can, and has been, described the same way by many, and it is, in many ways, the very last word on realism. That said, it has much in common with this book, and Something Happened is, in many ways, the better book. Classicists and romanticists may well prefer Joyce's novel and consider it downright blasphemy to have it compared with this modern masterwork, but the fact is, this is a very good and much underrated book, and will probably be preferred by post-modernists and existentialists over Ulysses. The book is very long - nearly 600 pages - and does have a tendency to ramble at times - often seemingly without a point. It's written in the style of a first-person narrative, and this is one of the few books where you truly get into the head of the main character. That is the main difference between this book and Ulysses: unlike the latter work, which follows the adventures of three separate characters as they follow parallel courses and sometimes intertwine, Something Happened consists entirely of one character's thoughts and actions. And, since it deals only with other people insofar as they relate to him, it can get a bit solipsistic at times - however, that said, Heller's intention with this book (I think) was to accurately and realistically describe the thoughts in the head of a fairly normal, everyday American male. He does a rather remarkable job of this.Read more ›
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58 of 70 people found the following review helpful By sb-lynn TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Brief summary and review, no spoilers.

Barbara Covett is a 60ish spinster school teacher, opinionated, intelligent and very lonely. She becomes good friends with Sheba Hart, a beautiful, popular 42 year old new teacher who has just arrived at Barbara's school. The novel is told from the point-of-view of Barbara, as she befriends Sheba and discovers that Sheba may be having an affair with one of Sheba's young students.

When I heard about the plot of this book, I have to admit I wasn't all that interested in reading it. But I picked up the book and read the first page and found it utterly compelling and an engrossing and intelligent read.

Part of the brilliance of this novel is the way you learn about both characters by listening to the narrator, the aptly named Barbara Covett. All is not what it seems and the author does a wonderful job making these characters very real people. Heller does a wonderful job showing how single women relate to those married with children and how people deal with loneliness and routine. She also shows how we make rationalizations about ourselves and our actions in order to justify our beliefs that we are good, honorable people.

I highly recommend this novel for any book clubs. It would make for a great discussion,and I think that everyone is going to have a different opinion about each of these two women. Not only is this novel an intelligent read, but it's a fun one also. This book is a page-turner that leaves you thinking about it and wanting to talk about it with your friends..what more can you ask for?
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Baird VINE VOICE on September 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
One goes into Zoe Heller's "What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal," a novel with a blowout of a premise, with some heavy expectations. What you get is a slightly unexpected but nonetheless worthwhile and intriguing reading experience, even if you can't help but wish there had been just a little of the melodrama you had anticipated. Heller's narrative, centered on the scandal surrounding forty-one-year-old Sheba Hart -- who has been caught having a sexual relationship with a sixteen-year-old student at the school where she teaches pottery classes, is remarkably staid and free of soap opera theatrics (even though she does imbue her tale with a dose of humor for levity). Heller focuses less on the aftermath of Sheba getting caught than she does on the year and a half preceding the uproar -- the time period in which Sheba first caught the student's eye, slowly got drawn into the affair, and began to lose control to an obsession over her young lover. Heller is struggling to answer the question that she has posed in the title: what was this otherwise right-thinking woman doing getting involved with a student? She does a passable job hinting at how it happens, but never really overcomes the vagaries of her characters. In the end you have theories but no concrete rulings on the how and why of it. I personally appreciate some of the room left for conjecture, but I can see how others would be left frustrated and put off by the vagueness of it all. At any rate, it is quite interesting to follow Sheba's collision course for disaster. The novel also has an unexpected sub-plot involving Barbara Covett, the spinsterly narrator of the story who is harboring an obsession of her own -- on her friendship with Sheba.Read more ›
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