First published:- June 1, 2003
Notes on a Scandal is a multi-layered story. While keeping up with the pretense of titillating readers with the lurid details of a much older woman's romance with an adolescent boy, it skilfully but subtly exposes the hypocrisy practiced by each one of its characters. How each one of them remained so painfully aware of Sheba's perversions while being stubbornly dismissive of their own.
Zoe Heller also forces us to rethink what we consider moral and immoral and ask ourselves whether we can really patronize Sheba Hart for what she did.
At the heart of the story is a theme of social deviance but there's also a tender love story at its core, albeit entirely one-sided.
The story of the scandal is narrated from Barbara's point of view who scribbles down whatever she feels about Sheba and her life in her notes while occasionally giving the reader a glimpse into her own sad little existence. Although she may come off as a woman with slightly sociopathic tendencies, keeping tabs on Sheba and meddling with almost every aspect of her life right from the time of their first meeting, one also feels for the profound loneliness she suffers from. She takes pleasure in watching Sheba's picture-perfect family life crumble bit by bit while she waits on the sidelines for a time to arrive when only she will remain by her side. While Sheba, subconsciously dissatisfied with the way her life has turned out to be, gets sucked deeper into the madness brought forth by her own deviance, Barbara observes silently and patiently. Till the time all hell breaks loose and both women-somewhat cut off from the mainstream of society-find a safe haven in each other's company.
A very significant question raised by the author in this book is - whether the supposed victims could sometimes be the culprits themselves? Whether a minor or a teenager can really be capable of manipulating an adult and bend him/her to their own will?
Not that this is an attempt at absolving Sheba of her actions but it's a question worth pondering.
To sum it up, this is a twisted and complicated tale revolving around relationships which cannot be labelled and the notions of culpability and hence right up my alley. No this does not mean I'm twisted (okay maybe a little) but merely that I love a good conundrum.