Paperback (Penguin, 244 pages)
First published 2003; this edition published 2007
Rating on Goodreads: 3 stars
“Schoolteacher Barbara Covett has led a solitary life until Sheba Hart, the new art teacher at St. George’s, befriends her. But even as their relationship develops, so too does another: Sheba has begun an illicit affair with an underage male student. When the scandal turns into a media circus, Barbara decides to write an account in her friend’s defense—and ends up revealing not only Sheba’s secrets, but also her own.”
What a bizarre novel.
Having watched a little of the film adaptation, I was curious as to whether the book would be worth my time. I picked up a gorgeous Penguin edition (I have a soft spot for their covers; they really are quite lovely) and proceeded to get stuck in.
And I have to admit, it is an engaging read. Barbara’s spiteful, snobbish narrative makes for an intriguing protagonist, and more than once I was left feeling both amused and exasperated by her words and her actions. Sheba, too, is a ridiculous character – but she left me with little amusement and far more exasperation than Barbara. Sheba is, in short, an idiot. That was the only word that kept ringing in my mind over and over. I didn’t like her, and I liked her teenage daughter even less.
Notes On A Scandal is a clever tackling of an often taboo subject, but there was nothing in the novel that made me go wow. The writing is easy to follow, and the characters realistic, but nothing really grasped me. I read it in one sitting, but I can blame that purely on the short length of the novel rather than the gripping narrative. It is engaging, but not spellbinding. Barbara and Sheba’s symbiotic relationship – more and more evident as the tale progresses – is somewhat sickening by the end of the book, and perhaps character building is the novel’s strength. But in terms of plot, I wasn’t thrilled.
If you like reading books on supposed taboo subjects, then you might like this. Otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend it. It left me with an unsatisfied feeling, and I won’t be rereading it.