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Zoe Heller
256 Pages
Publisher: Penguin Books(January 2007)
ISBN: 978-0312426095
Price: S$23.10 (Available in Borders)





This is a very naughty book (read the excerpt below to get an idea). But upon further reflection after one thorough read, we found it to be disturbing as well – because of the unimaginably “abnormal” and “psychotic” things people can do to possess, gasp, a relationship.

And why would people result to that sorry state? According to this Zoe Heller book, it probably has something to do with loneliness.

The novel is an engaging documentation by history teacher Barbara Covett on a scandalous affair between the new pottery teacher Sheba Hart and her student. As the book progresses, you realize that the diary written by this woman of status isn’t about the indecent relationship, but about the scary thoughts she has in her mind.

This novel has been adapted by Peter Marber into an Oscar-nominated film screenplay. The movie version directed by Richard Eyre stars the regally sinister Judi Dench as Barbara and the versatile Cate Blanchett as Sheba. Both acclaimed actresses are so convincing that they have earned Academy Award nominations for their roles.

Heller must be glad that her 2003 book is such a critical hit.

At times cheeky, at times creepy, this easy-to-read book will hook you with its stark portrayal of human loneliness. The way Barbara sticks stars onto her diary pages whenever she feels happy about her friendship with Sheba is simply spine-chilling. The way Barbara manipulates Sheba into a situation with her hush-hush affair is gleefully wicked. And the way Barbara puts on a face of an angel at the beginning of the book is compellingly written too.

The question now is, whether readers will sympathize with Barbara when her diary explains her despicable actions?

Chances are, you will. Because you’ve had that sense of loss and loneliness, but have never let it be shown. So when the novel presents its satisfying ending (at least, a more gratifying one than the film version) to you, you’d be left in disturbed awe.


“The first time I saw him undress, you know what I thought of, Barbara? Fresh garden vegetables wrapped in a clean white hanky. Mushrooms fresh from the soil. No, really. He was edible. He washed his hair every night. Imagine! It was limp with cleanness. The vanity of adolescence, probably. Or no – perhaps the anxiety of it. His body was a new toy still: he hadn’t learnt to treat it with the indifferent neglect of adults.”


Naughty, naughty - you must be wondering what else is in store after reading the above excerpt. Well, we hate to disappoint, but there isn’t much more titillating writing elsewhere in the book. But the real reward here is to read a woman’s lonesome journey to what can potentially destroy her.

Review by John Li


. The Movie Review



This book review is made possible with the kind sponsor of BORDERS


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