The narrator of this novels is Barbara, a childless spinster in her sixties who is writing an account of a relationship between her colleague, Sheba Hart, and one of her pupils, Steven Connolly.
What makes this novel, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003, particularly interesting is that we are emotionally detached from the ‘scandal’ of the affair due to the unreliable third party narrator. All we really hear is Barbara’s take on events. Also, although the initial scandal may appear to be Sheba’s affair with a teenage boy, the other scandal that becomes evident in Barbara’s narrative is the disturbing undercurrent of her sinister obsessive behaviour. She casually mentions previous incidents where she has suffered social rejection, and as a reader we cannot help but assume that it may have been her stalker-like behaviour that pushed people away.
Despite knowing the story as I saw the film a few years ago (although the endings are slightly different) I found Heller’s writing gripping. I also did feel some sympathy for Barbara’s desperate loneliness despite her behaviour. An excellent novel.