At least it is not your everyday male teacher seduces/rapes female student. It is the reverse, sort of. But who seduced who (whom)? After reading this book, you will know. But the weird thing is; this novel is not really about the sex.
Notes On a Scandal by Zoe Heller
A middle-age female high school teacher has an affair with a student that began when the student was fifteen. The narrator will mention more than once that the uproar among the public, friends of the teacher, friends of the student, and the school staff is different from what it would be if the situation were a male teacher with a female student. The could not be a book like this without making that observation; by doing so we have gotten social politics out of the way.
For those looking for salacious sexual content; this is NOT the book for you. In the first few pages the reader is almost promised all the lurid details of an eight-month affair, but you will have to look very hard to find any “good stuff.”
What the reader will find is some excellent writing in the way of character development. Barbara, the narrator, is a fascinating character. More and more of her character is revealed as the book moves on. The novel is in the form of Barbara’s notes on the scandal once Sheba has been caught. Barbara wants to make notes on her relationship with Sheba from the time she first met the new teacher until the “present” time, when she is still taking care of Sheba in the house of Sheba’s mom. While Barbara’s focus is on Sheba and student lover Connolly; Barbara also writes of her own relationship with headmaster Pabblem, former best friend Jennifer, and Sue Hodge. It seems Barbara is quite jealous of Sue because Sheba’s first close friend was Sue, not Barbara.
Barbara also is involved with Sheba’s family, husband Richard, daughter Polly, and son Ben. Barbara does not have a high opinion of many. She thinks Richard is pretentious and does not deserve Sheba. She thinks Polly is disrespectful and disdainful of Sheba (a correct viewpoint). She does not have bad things to say about Ben, but Ben has Down’s syndrome.
Sheba is an upper class lady trying to make a difference in sharing enlightenment with the lower class rough crowd of students at her school. Connolly is a student who sees an opportunity for sex. Sheba does not start out with the idea of sex with a student. She looks at Connolly’s early attempts at starting a relationship as cute. She rationalizes her responses as polite; she does not want to stunt his social growth by an outright rebuff. Then she becomes intrigued. Then she responds with more enthusiasm, then she gets caught.
After she gets caught, daughter Polly will not talk to her, husband Richard throws her out of the house and allows only limited visitation with Ben. Sheba loses her job. Barbara loses her job, ousted by the headmaster she never liked, but she was ready to retire anyway. Sheba moves into a house owned by her brother Eddie, who is away in another country for an extended period of time. Barbara moves in with her for emotional support; she also begins making notes (this novel).
There is a surprise, not to be revealed here. How did she get caught? Did someone see Sheba and Connolly together? Who informed?
But the surprise takes backstage to the examination of Barbara’s life (as explained by Barbara). And the answer to the unasked question of why Barbara, really quite a snob, is taking care of Sheba, remains unanswered.