You know you have a talented author when she/he manages to portray two characters, one a seemingly nice, practical and helpful, the other, flighty, a bit naive, and a sex offender, with the former actually coming off in a worse light! Zoe Heller is one of these authors.
Now, I had actually seen the movie adaptation of this book (Notes on a Scandal, starring Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench) before I read the book, so I kind of knew what I was getting into. This is actually one of those rare occasions when I thought the movie was on equal, if not better, footing with the book! Even though I knew how the story played out, it was still very unsettling to read it.
The basic premise follows Sheba Hart, a new teacher at a tough city school. Sheba meets Barbara, a colleague of hers, and they begin a close friendship. However, Sheba has a secret, and with Barbara desperate for a new close friend, will she manipulate this secret and woman in order to get what she wants? Of course there is way more to this story line, but saying much more will spoil it for some readers.
This book is really a story about human flaws and how easy we can fall into certain traps; the frailty of our desires, be they physical or emotional, is explored extensively throughout the book. What we might judge as immoral, soon gets turned on its head with a different perspective and we are left wondering what is indeed wrong and right. Heller does a brilliant job with these characters – both are believable, multi-faceted and act as a great sound board for each other, and indeed the reader.
If you want to read a book that will question what you feel about people, society, and yourself, then I highly recommend this book. It will engage you, leave you feeling repulsed, fascinated, confused, and frustrated.