Notes on a Scandal (or to use it's alternate title: What was she thinking) by Zoe Heller was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2003. What follows is a short review- I've tried not to include too many spoilers.

The book deals with the tabloid scandal surrounding the affair of Sheba Hart- an art teacher in a London School and a 15 year old schoolboy Steven Connolly. When Hart first joins her bohemian air alienates many including the narrator Barbara Covett. Hart is arty, upper class with a difficult daughter and a son with Downs' syndrome. Over time, Covett secures Hart's friendship and is told about her affair. When the scandal breaks, Covett is her only source of refuge, standing up to the media and her irate family.

But there is more to this than meets the eye. The book begins with Covett saying that this was her attempt to put the record on the Sheba Hart scandal straight, and to jot down what she'd seen and heard. But it soon becomes clear that Covett, an obsessively lonely spinster with a cat called Portia has a mind that revels in others' miseries. Her sly, insightful account is full of gossip, bathos, envy, passion and frustration and peels off, painstakingly, layer by layer, her own complex persona. But at the end of the book, you are still never quite sure who the real Barbara Covett is and what she wants. I detected a hint of lesbianism in her obsession for Hart, but this again is masked by Covett's respectable exterior- an exterior that dictates her tone of shocked indulgence and moral rectitude. But beneath it all, you can see that she's enjoying the attention and that she's not what she seems to be. A great read, and a fabulous look into the mysteries of the human mind, the book was aptly described as one reviewer of being full of 'delicious secrets' and by another of feeling like you were rifling through someone else's bathroom cabinet.

Zoë Heller was born in London. Her work as a feature writer, critic, and columnist has appeared in The Independent on Sunday, The London Sunday Times, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The London Review of Books, Esquire, The New Republic, and The Times Literary Supplement. She currently writes a weekly column for the London Telegraph, for which she won the 2002 British Press Award for Columnist of the Year. She has lived in New York since 1993.

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