Book choice for August

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller [suggested by Rowena James]

front cover

Pottery teacher Sheba lets herself be talked into an affair with 15-year-old pupil Connolly; part of what is admirable about this novel is that there is no real attempt to extenuate this - it's wrong and she knows this from the start, enough to lie to herself and others about it.  It's an abuse of her very limited power - he is one of the few of her pupils interested in art, not interested in perpetually disrupting her lessons.  Sheba is not alone in abusing power, though, and Heller forces us to confront this unpleasant truth about the moralising, managerial headmaster, the husband freed by Sheba's action to seduce his own very slightly older students, and the relatives who never liked her much and can now disown her.  Above all, she devotes most of the novel to Barbara, the older colleague who becomes Sheba's confidante and slowly manipulates the situation to make Sheba entirely dependent on her.  This is a brilliantly gloomy study in obsession - and the obsession in question is not actually Sheba's with her underage lover. [review from by Roz Kaveney]

Zoe Heller was born in London in 1965 and educated at Oxford University and Columbia University, New York.  She is a journalist who, after writing book reviews for various newspapers, became a feature writer for The Independent.  She wrote a weekly confessional column for the Sunday Times for four years, but now writes for the Daily Telegraph and earned the title 'Columnist of the Year' in 2002.  She is the author of two novels: Everything You Know (2000), a dark comedy about misanthropic writer Willy Miller, and Notes on a Scandal (2003) which tells the story of an affair between a high school teacher and her student through the eyes of the teacher's supposed friend, Barbara Covett.  It was shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize for fiction, and was recently released as a feature film, starring Cate Blanchett and Dame Judi Dench.  She lives in New York.

See also her extremely sparse Wikipedia page.


Shortlisted for this month

This is the first month of our second experiment into new ways of choosing our monthly reads.  Rowena also presented these two other books, which coincidentally have both been suggested to the club before (Slaughterhouse 5 by Kathryn in April and Breakfast at Tiffany's by Lisa Jones in October of last year).  Sadly both of them were passed over again this time, although it was a close-run thing.  With only seven attending the meeting, and the votes split equally between the three candidates, Rowena was forced into a casting vote.

Slaughterhouse 5 [suggested by Kathryn Berzins]

Slaughterhouse 5

Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore.  In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

Don't let the ease of reading fool you - Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel.  He writes, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces.  One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters..."  Slaughterhouse-Five (taken from the name of the building where the POWs were held) is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is as important as any written since 1945.  Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority.  Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut's other works, but the book's basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy - and humour.

The book is so famous it has its own Wikipedia page

About the Author

Most readers interested in the fantastic in literature are familiar with Kurt Vonnegut, particularly for his uses of science fiction.  Many of his early short stories were wholly in the science fiction mode, and while its degree has varied, science fiction has never lost its place in his novels.  Vonnegut has typically used science fiction to characterize the world and the nature of existence as he experiences them.  His chaotic fictional universe abounds in wonder, coincidence, randomness and irrationality.  Science fiction helps lend form to the presentation of this world view without imposing a falsifying causality upon it.  In his vision, the fantastic offers perception into the quotidian, rather than escape from it.  Science fiction is also technically useful, he has said, in providing a distance perspective, "moving the camera out into space," as it were.  And unusually for this form, Vonnegut's science fiction is frequently comic, not just in the "black humor" mode with which he has been tagged so often, but in being simply funny.

All the above information is lifted from Kurt Vonnegut's website which then goes on to discuss his graphic art at great length.

Breakfast at Tiffany's [suggested by Lisa Jones]

Breakfast at Tiffany's


With her blond hair, upturned nose and black dresses, Holly Golightly is a sensation wherever she goes.  Her apartment vibrates with parties as she plays hostess to millionaires and gangsters alike.  Yet she never loses sight of her goal - to find a place like Tiffany's that makes her feel at home.

(Review from

About the Author

Truman Capote, best known for his extravagant, celebrated, and outrageous lifestyle as much as his famous works Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood, reached a level of success few writers, celebrities, and socialites dream of.

Capote's professional career exploded with the literary acclaim of several short stories published in Mademoiselle and Harper's Bazaar and his first novel Other Voice, Other Rooms.

Shortly after critical acclaim for his nonfiction novel In Cold Blood, Capote hosted his famous Black and White ball in NYC.  This was the height of his social climb and he soon began his descent into drugs, alcohol, and reclusivity as his friends sharply rejected his thinly veiled portrayal of them in Answered Prayers.  Read More...

Truman Capote on Wikipedia.


Previous Months' Book Choices

July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006