If anyone ever needed a loyal spin doctor, it's Sheba Hart. The heroine of Zoë Heller's darkly comic second novel, What Was She Thinking?, is a 42-year-old high school teacher who is caught having an affair with Steven Connolly, one of her 15-year-old students ... Heller, London-born and Oxford-educated, is particularly witty when parsing British class perceptions... At the novel's center is a dead-on meditation about the different treatment of male and female sex offenders ... The plot twist may not be a huge surprise, but Heller handles it with wry grace, managing to mock her characters without allowing their story to tip into farce.
Notes on a Scandal is Barbara's retelling of what happened, detailing scenes she couldn't have possibly witnessed but claims to have been retold so many times that she may as well have been there ... Heller is, of course, an expert at depicting the cool, smooth, oh-so-proper veneer of the English upper- and not- so-upper classes: the veiled confessions, the insincere concerns, the very passive aggressions of it all ...drops plenty of hints early on that Barbara isn't the most reliable narrator around, particularly when documenting her own obsessive behavior ... Heller never dares lose control, and neither, in spite of everything, do her characters. The story holds the promise of an emotionally catastrophic denouement, but lacks the punch of Muriel Sparks' The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie or Sheila Kohler's South African variation, Cracks.
As its title and first pages suggest, its surface plot concerns a tabloid-pleasing sizzler of a scandal ... Neither player tells the story in their own words, so instead of the anticipated wallow in dodgy Nabokovian delights, we're given a third party's somewhat matter-of-fact account of the charmless youth's entanglement with the unlikely school sexpot ... It's a quiet little read – yet horribly addictive. Underlying breathtakingly acute observations, and much fine writing, there's a lightness of sentiment that sporadically propels the novel into the realms of commercial pap.