Friday, July 13, 2012
"What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal" by Zoe Heller
Elderly London schoolteacher Barbara Covett leaves a solitary life. She goes to work, goes home to her cat, and that's about it. That all changes when Sheba Hart takes a job at Barbara's school. She's different from Barbara in nearly every way: she's married with two children, she's only thirty-five, and she's outgoing. Despite all this, Barbara and Sheba become close friends. Eventually, Sheba shares her biggest secret: she's having an affair with a fifteen-year-old student named Stephen. Barbara decides to keep the news to herself, despite her legal and moral obligation to turn Sheba in. But then, when Sheba's actions finally do come to light, some of Barbara's do as well.
This is certainly a disturbing but interesting story. I picked it up because I have heard of the teachers who've had affairs with students, and I couldn't imagine what was going on in their heads when they did so. I knew this was fiction, but I thought it would be interesting nonetheless. It turns out that, in many ways, this is more Barbara's story. Her bizarre obsession with Sheba and her reaction to Sheba's confessions say as much about Barbara as they do about Sheba. I don't think the book ever really answers the question from the title--What was she thinking?--and it's very predictable, but I enjoyed it for the most part. There's a lot more humor than I expected from such troublesome subject matter, too.