Notes on a Scandal – Zoe Heller

NOOS 2Sheba has a relationship with Connolly, one of her pupils. There was a time when a teenage boy having an older woman was seen as an achievement, though if the ages and genders are reversed we are talking crime. She was an excessive masturbator as a girl, she mulls things over ‘like Jews analysing a single Talmud passage.’ She experiences a proper kiss after years with her husband. Is amused yet offended by the boy’s lack of endurance, defends herself from gossip by suggesting he’d also get into a lot of trouble. There is a good description of loneliness on p.187 – the drip drip of long haul, visit to launderettes

Her sister’s family have a house full of religious kitsch and we are told that they took Communion on two simultaneous days, which is highly unlikely since they are actually 7th Day Adventists who only celebrate it four times a year

Connolly’s body seems like a toy, not treated with indifference like adults. When kissing he sees his tongue as being creative in a limited space. He is only 15, which may be near the age of consent but it is still a pupil assault. It is not indecent according to Sheba, who cites the example of a 32 year old prince marrying 19 year old and says that minors can play power games over adults. She admires his superb skin without pustules but he crudely asks, ‘You worried your vadge has gone loose?’

 The Newspapers report the affair with their usual hypocrisy of envying the boy yet calling her perverted and using suggestive headlines like ‘sex teacher passes her orals.’

NOOSBarbara, the older colleague, says about Sheba that she is the ‘only genuinely upper-middle class person I have ever known’. She drinks wine from a carton, uses stick on gold stars. Barbara claims never to have been attracted to pupils, notices panty liners – ‘I have been in staff toilet after her so I know.’ ‘I have stooped to slightly childish insults.’ ‘Talking to Bangs is like talking to a school play’ She flaunted her superior discipline skills by intervening in one of Sheba’s lessons – seen as undermining her.

Snobbishly, she observes that Sheba’s shelves influenced by ‘Books of the Year’ lists.’ She is ‘Not very good with young people outside role.’ Pedantically, she corrects the head: ‘not two choices but one choice, two alternatives.’ And asks, ‘How will Sheba ever manage on her own? I can’t bear to be on my own again.

Descriptions of school life are very accurate: Afternoon break is not good time for teachers, should people read liberal newspapers or the lower sort of fiction. Alumni who return to teach do so out of insecurity. In a posh catchment area the best kids migrate. ‘I fancy you miss, Show us your tits.’ There is a teacher’s ‘Performing rage’, girls put chewing gum in hair, attempt to burn another with lighter, teachers who want to make a difference. grandiose aims as opposed to the 3Rs, creative music teachers who play Pink Floyd, teachers disapprove of private education, wrote reports to cover up reality, a head commissioning papers and INSET as a day of Subversion.

The trendy headmaster is a petty-minded despot who bribes Barbara with the police

On the differences between women and men: Women are engrossed by details when observing other women, men ogled. Men think that women’s armpits are better bushy like the French than shaved like iron filings.

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