I’ve just finished Zoe Heller’s book ‘Notes on a scandal.’ It was another Lit and Phil find. I enjoyed it very much even though the subject is a bit difficult.
Without giving too much away it tells the tale of a relationship between a female teacher and a male pupil. It reflects on the need for human relationships and challenges our assumptions on gender and sex. I wonder if I would have found the story so absorbing if it had been the other way round and the teacher was male.
We all carry prejudice in our heads. Some we know about yet others lurk just beneath the surface. I knew that what she had done was wrong yet my sympathies swayed between liking and loathing, condemnation and forgiveness. The same could be said for the boy. Should my condemnation be as severe for what he had done or should I accept that he was a child and knew not right from wrong. We were all young once and did things which we should not have done. Nothing of this magnitude for me I hasten to add.
The biggest challenge for my prejudices came, however, when I flicked to the inside back of the jacket, the bit where it talks about the author. I read that Heller was a contributor to the Telegraph and I had instant feelings of conflict. How could I like a book by someone who wrote for such a paper? Thankfully such feelings were brief. I consoled myself that she had written the book in a time when the Telegraph was more of a serious paper.
I am also aware that you can like art yet dislike the artist. I love Wagner, for example, yet intensely dislike his antisemitic views. There was nothing in the book to suggest any political leanings, indeed it came across as sympathetic to the characters involved and not critical of their social standing or beliefs.
Prejudices are dangerous things. They can lead us to feel things which we have no idea if they are true or false. They can lead us to make assumptions that we are not aware of.
I may not agree with the politics of the Telegraph yet that doesn’t make their writers bad people or bad authors. I thought ‘Notes on a scandal’ an excellent book and I look forward to reading more of Heller’s work. If anything it has made me realise that darker thoughts lurk within my soul. That is a good thing.