Notes on a Scandal
I’ve chosen to combine these two books, as both deal with the issue of obsession, albeit in polar opposite ways.
Notes on a Scandal, is set in a high school, and narrated by Barbara Covell, a History teacher who has been working for a long time in the same place. She becomes fascinated by a new teacher at the school, Sheba Hart. Sheba finds herself embroiled in the scandal of the title, as she has a affair with one of the elder pupils in her charge.
It’s a dark, and almost claustrophobic read, as Barbara’s point of view is rather negative. She views herself as being almost above the rest of the staff, and although some of her observations ring with humour, it’s a very dark sense of humour.
The first chapter shows us how intense Barbara is, as she is able to recall specific details about the day that Sheba arrived at the school, discussing her clothing, and the fact that she had worn her hair up ‘in one of those fancy up dos’. It almost struck me as being that of a first meeting between lovers, rather than colleagues. I know that I would not be able to recall with any certainty, what kind of hairstyle any of my female co workers had adopted, the first time that I met them.
This intensity flows throughout the entire book, and builds steadily, as Sheba comes to rely on Barbara’s council, more and more. Barbara imposes her steady and ultra rational mind set over most people in her life, sticking rigidly to her perspective, despite what others might think or feel, and describes her devout sister’s family as ‘people who believe in fairy stories’.
The impulse that people have to dismiss things and views which don’t agree with their perspective on the world is explored in High Fidelity, albeit in a very different way. Hornby uses humour, showing a very insular world inside a music store. The owner is the narrator, a man in his mid thirties named Rob, and he is a much more sympathetic character than Heller’s Barbara.
He is just as stuck as Barbara is, feeling stagnant, and lost after his girlfriend ended their relationship before the start of the novel. The light hearted humour that Hornby uses to great effect, is part of the reason why Rob, and his two assistants are quite endearing. He attempts to get back some control, and understanding of his life, by looking back, and reconnecting with old girlfriends.
I found myself rooting for Rob, feeling a strange sort of kinship for him, despite the fact that our situations at the time that I first read it, were vastly different. And although I have never owned a record store, and am not a man in my mid thirties, on rereading it, I was still rooting for him from very early on in the novel.