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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: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (247 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,167 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

Many of us, I'm sure, at one point or another in time have lived a life very similar to that of Heller's main character, Bob Slocum.
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.
Bill R. Moore
In the same vein as the prose written in "Catch-22", Joseph Heller proves to be a great writer in his work outside of his most known classic.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 79 people found the following review helpful By sb-lynn TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
*PLEASE NOTE - THIS IS A REVIEW FOR NOTES ON A SCANDAL by Zoe Heller. For some reason this review (after 11 years) got also placed under Joseph Heller's book, Something Happened. I contacted Amazon and they said that they cannot fix this so apologies.

Brief summary (of Notes on a Scandal) 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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Calum on March 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
This intense and masterfully written novel by Zoe Heller introduces one of the most captivating and intriguing characters of the decade as it tells its sordid and juicy tale of illicit love and the scandal that ensues.

Barbara Covett is a single and painfully lonely teacher in her 60s, who has very few friends and prefers to keep mostly to herself. When the lower-class school that she works at welcomes Sheba Hart; a carefree, attractive and popular new art teacher; Barbara senses that a friendship will develop between them, although she quickly becomes skeptical of that occuring. However, as their association begins to develop from friends to confidantes, Barbara learns of a relationship that has come about between Sheba and a 15 year old student-a secret that could potentially sink Sheba.

Heller's novel, written as Barbara's retrospective diary entries on the situation, provides an incredible depth of character insight into both Barbara's lonely, attention depraved existance and Sheba's unthinkable affair. There is never a dull moment, as Barbara's diary slowly unveils the ups and downs of the relationship and the scandal that it creates, with Barbara's startling honesty and well composed thoughts on the circumstances and the other characters making for a compelling, fascinating and highly entertaining read. The handful of periferal characters also help to propel the story forward in a manner that is interesting and thought-provoking.

Zoe Heller's brilliant novel is without a doubt one of the best of the new century, providing greater character depth than most authors can. I strongly recommend that you read this masterpiece before seeing the film!
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35 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Jacquelyn on May 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
This was one of the best books I've ever read -- and I read a lot. It was astonishingly good. It's about 2 teachers at a Brtish public high school who develop a close friendship. One of them, however, has a history of obsessive behaviour with other friends she's had, and is really quite bizarre in her thoughts and behaviour. What makes this book so fascinating is it is this "weird" (for want of a better word) character (Barbara) who narrates the book; therefore, she thinks SHE is in control of the story, and the story as far as she's concerned is about the other main character's affair with one of the students at the school. But for the READER, the real story is Barbara herself. As the story progresses, she becomes increasingly more sinister, and it becomes impossible to put this book down. I don't want to write anymore and spoil any of what's in store for other readers. This book is simply not to be missed.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
Quite simply, Joseph Heller's "Something Happened" is one of the great novels of the twentieth century. The narrative style is more consistant with a story being told in person than reading a novel. When I first encountered this work as a younger man, I was impressed that fiction writing could be so powerful and yet so realistic. Years of exposure to the corporate world described have made me realize that the book is even more profound than on first reading. It is the deconstructing of the American Dream, and the casualties are each of us in his own way.
I was dismayed to read one reviewer write that nothing happens in "Something Happens." If one's criteria are shoot-outs and car chases, I suppose that this is true. What happens is internal, very personal, and unique to each of us. The protagonist confronts not only his own mortality, but that of an entire system. In contrast to the characters in Catch-22, who wear their absurdity on their sleeves, the characters in this book were harder to portray accurately. That Heller does this without missing a single note is a tribute to his craft.
I wish that this work had been included in the Modern Library's 100 Best. It is richly deserving of that accolade. Read it and you will not be the same.
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