Notes on a novel

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

Heller has woven into this novel such delicate subtlety. It is there on every page, but no less obvious than the individual fibres in the paper of the page itself. The book is told from the perspective of a classic unrealiable narrator, and it is the tension this viewpoint provides that makes the novel soar above what could have been a rather simple tale of modern life.

While the surface-story is that of a teacher who engages in a relationship with her pupil, the undercurrent is the tale of the woman who befriends this teacher. Saying anything more would give too much away, so you’ll have to take my word for it: this book is excellent. The stories of the two central characters are brought together with Heller’s keen sense of what makes people tick. She has crafted these characters as people who click together in certain ways – this makes the book feel very genuine. Above this are the questions we pose as we read it, firstly about the plot as it unravels backwards, but also about the focus of Heller’s story. It may not be all that it seems.

The final nod has to go to the book’s language. With this novel, Heller situates herself in that class of modern writers who practice sparse and crisp storytelling. No word is superfluous, no word is overused. Her prose is clean and simple and, for that reason alone, is a manual to writers everywhere.

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