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Zoë Heller Books In Order

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Publication Order of Standalone Novels

Everything You Know (1999)Description / Buy at Amazon
Notes on a Scandal / What Was She Thinking? (2003)Description / Buy at Amazon
The Believers (2008)Description / Buy at Amazon

Zoe Heller is an English literary fiction books author best known for her 2003 novel, Notes on a Scandal, also known as What was She Thinking? She was born in London in 1965 and studied for her degrees at Columbia and Oxford Universities. She worked as a journalist writing book reviews for different newspaper outlets and later worked as a feature writer for The Independent. Heller wrote a weekly column for the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph. She lives in New York.

Heller’s 2003 book Notes on a Scandal was made into a movie by the same name in 2006 featuring Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench. On the surface, the book is about a scandal, but profoundly, it’s a story about pure, bone-aching loneliness. It features no silly comparisons or bloated metaphors. Instead, it used acute observations and layered themes.

Notes on a Scandal plotline is something that has already been done before and in different forms. We’ve all read stories about student and teacher affairs and older adults preying on vulnerable youth. However, what makes this book unique is that, instead of creating a scandalous account of the affair from the point of view of one of the participants, it is narrated by Barbara- a character not involved in the affair. This gives the events in the story an unemotional tone as Barbara doesn’t know what made Sheba get attracted to Connolly, and so you, as the reader, don’t either.

As you read through the pages, the reader can understand that Barbara is a desperate and clingy woman, but you can’t help but sympathize with her. At the start, Barbara states that the story is about Sheba and not herself, but then you get to discover that Barbara’s story is more compelling, one that seeps in and takes over.

Zoe Heller’s book is a multi-layered story. While showcasing the details of a much older woman’s affair with a teenage boy, the story subtly reveals the hypocrisy portrayed by each character, how each of the characters remained sadly aware of Sheba’s perversion behaviors while simultaneously being strongly dismissive of their own. The author forces the reader to rethink what we consider moral and immoral and question whether we can acknowledge Sheba for what she did.

At the core of this story is the theme of social deviance and also one of a love story, even though it’s entirely one-sided. The love affair scandal is narrated from Barbara’s point of view through the scribbles she writes down of whatever she feels about her friend Sheba and her life. The reader sees Barbara’s sad little existence through these scribbled notes. Even though Barbara may come off as a woman with sociopathic tendencies, keeping an eye on Sheba and meddling with all aspects of her life from the first meeting, the reader may feel compassion for her for the bone-aching loneliness she feels.

Barbara takes pleasure in seeing Sheba’s perfect family life crushing slowly while she waits on the sidelines for when she will remain by her side. While Sheba is subconsciously unhappy with how her life has turned out, she can’t help but get sucked deeper into chaos brought upon by her deviance as Barbara watches silently and patiently. Not until all hell breaks loose, and the two women cut off from society find a haven in each other’s company.

Zoe Heller raises an important question in this story: Could the supposed victims be the culprits themselves? Is a minor or a teenager capable of manipulating an adult and bending them to their own will? Was Sheba a victim or the culprit? These are questions worth pondering. Overall, Notes on a Scandal is a twisted and complex tale of inappropriate relationships and notions of accountability.

Everything you Know is Zoe Heller’s debut novel, published in 1999. It introduces us to Willy Muller, whose life is a total mess. His elder daughter is spiteful of him. His girlfriends want to change him, he’s no longer close to his sister, and his agent is persuading him to feature on a screenplay of his old bestselling book ‘To Have and to Hold,’ a narration of how he killed his wife- or maybe he did not.

Willy was found guilty on his first trial and served time but was released on appeal because his wife was an alcoholic.

Willy’s life should have hit a turning point after suffering a major heart attack. Still, unlike many people who recover from the attack determined to improve and live there every day, Willy is quite the opposite and seems to have lost his interest in life.
To cheer him up, Willy’s agent sent him to Mexico to recover and work on a screenplay. He takes the youngest of his girlfriend with him, but Karen’s 30 years younger than him and wants more sex than a man with an evil heart can offer. When the older girlfriend turns up unexpectedly, Willy expects chaos. To make matters even worse, his rebellious old friend Harry visits to spend his day in an alcoholic mess, clashing with the landlady, calling Willy’s client nasty names, and upsetting the maid service by peeing on his bed. Amid all this chaos, we are introduced to Willy’s daughter Sadie.

Months earlier, Sadie had committed suicide. Before taking her own life, she had collected journals dating from her childhood years after her mother died while she and her sister Sophie lived with their aunt Monika when Willy was in prison. But thanks to the inefficiency of the postal service, it has taken a long for the parcels to be delivered to Willy.

Sadie’s childhood was characterized by analysts, therapists, and curious strangers who regarded the sisters with suspicion and pity. She and her sister Sophie shunned their middle-class lifestyle and lived in filthy, deplorable squats surrounded by dropouts and wasters. The story of her life of suffering and her quest for love is portrayed through journal excerpts interspersed with her father’s current issues. As the narrative alternates between Willy’s present and Sadie’s history, it becomes evident that both characters are incapable of handling relationships. Willy fights with his greedy, manipulating girlfriend, while Sadie’s married boyfriend mistreats and exploits her.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Zoë Heller

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