Friday, December 07, 2012
I'm reading Notes on a Scandal
So, the above are all covers of Zoë Heller's Notes on a Scandal.
I remember seeing the movie a few years ago - you know the one: Cate Blanchett all blithe and gorgeous and SK-II dewy, and Judi Dench watchful and creepy*. The book was published in 2003 I think and the movie came out in 2006. So this is old news but I feel lucky to have found the book. It all came about when recently I saw a link to an article where Zoë Heller had slammed Salman Rushdie's new memoir Joseph Anton (currently residing on the floor beside me bed, no not him, the book.)
I looked up Heller and saw she'd written this, as well as a couple of other books. Found it at Readings and bazinga, just over half-way through.
The first thing I noticed about this novel is how slim it is, it's like a novella. I've had a good run with slender-volumes; in the last few years I enjoyed Michael Cunningham's By Nightfall (found a blistering review of that while I was googling around Heller; she didn't write it though) and also The Old Man and the Sea. Oh, and Cosmopolis. OH AND THE LIGHTHOUSE. How could I forget. Again, slim and perfect length though I don't know if any of the above technically fit novella length.
Anyway, second thing I noticed about Notes on a Scandal is how tightly it's written and how the words are arranged. Brilliant. The voice of Barbara, who narrates the story - everything comes through her as cipher, as taker of the said notes on the scandal in which her teaching colleague embroils herself. I don't think I've read a character with such a polished, wonderful, impressive vocabulary. Heller has definitely chosen the words that appear in Barbara's voice with such care. The choice she's enacted - the particular words selected - contributes to Barbara's character. Other words might have done but it gives the reader the message that Barbara is a very particular person, Barbara prides herself on her verbal skills (even if she doesn't speak them aloud, she feels proud that she knows these words and knows how to use them).
Words like: insouciant, parenthesis, orthodoxy, duress, soubriquet, calumny, lugubrious, bonhomie, imbroglio, glut, concupiscent, salacious, ribald, fecundity, ersatz and riposte.
Of the above words, it's only concupiscent that I didn't know. It means filled with sexual desire; lustful: "concupiscent dreams". Synonyms are: lustful - prurient - libidinous - salacious - voluptuous. I wonder why she didn't use libidinous or prurient.
I haven't read a book that has had such beautiful words all in the one place before. Sure, lots of literary writers use beautiful words all the time but there is something different about these words. They are on another level. I would bet that Heller had been keeping a list of words like this for years and then created a character who would use them. I reckon this because it's the sort of thing I would do - am doing - oh, those words. They are sublime.
So, the covers. I like the one with the apple best, hate the ones with the orgasmic blondes, but I got the one with the tattoo thingy on the front. Inside the back flap there is a mini feature of a tattoo artist, Valerie Vargas**, from Frith Street Tattoo, in London.
I will definitely be checking out Heller's other fiction, it's wonderful.
* can't think of a third adjective to use. I had lesbionic but took it out.
** cool name