Synopses & Reviews
A lonely schoolteacher reveals more than she intends when she records the story of her best friend's affair with a pupil in this sly, insightful novel.
Schoolteacher Barbara Covett has led a solitary existence; aside from her cat, Portia, she has few friends and no intimates. When Sheba Hart joins St. George's as the new art teacher, Barbara senses the possibility of a new friendship. It begins with lunches and continues with regular invitations to meals with Sheba's seemingly close-knit family. But as Barbara and Sheba's relationship develops, another does as well: Sheba has begun a passionate affair with an underage male student. When it comes to light and Sheba falls prey to the inevitable media circus, Barbara decides to write an account in her freind's defense an account that reveals not only Sheba's secrets but her own.
What Was She Thinking? is a story of repression and passion, envy and complacence, friendship and loneliness. A complex psychological portrait framed as a wicked satire, it is by turns funny, poignant, and sinister. With it, Zoë Heller surpasses the promise of her critically acclaimed first novel, Everything You Know.
"Sparkling...A stylish and spirited debut." The New York Times
"A caustic and ultimately devastating novel." The New Yorker
"The most gripping novel of the year. You leave this extraordinary book utterly shaken, with new knowledge of the human heart. Heller writes with a precision that stirs the blood and an uncommon insight into the darker sides of love." Nuala O'Faolain
"The novel is gripping from start to finish; Heller brings vivid, nuanced characterizations to the racy story." Publishers Weekly
"Both a penetrating character study and a sharp examination of voyeurism, Heller's novel is utterly brilliant." Booklist
"Heller elevates a tabloid-worthy tale of obsession into an intense, witty, literary page-turner." Entertainment Weekly
"Deliciously perverse, laugh-out-loud funny [with] caustic wit and needle-sharp observations. The reader looks on, amused and aghast, as both unlikely seductress and her self-deluding protector become locked in a helpless embrace of need and betrayal." Vogue
"Heller is a great ventriloquist of character, and as the unhinged curator of the Sheba affair, Barbara is painfully note-perfect. What Was She Thinking? achieves some very worthy literary aims indeed." The Washington Post Book World
"...[T]he novel provides the titillating pleasure of watching something bad happen up close....Heller does a beautiful job giving voice to a hero who is both in control and losing control." Chicago Tribune
"The triumph of What Was She Thinking? is that we see this caricature of a bitter, manipulative woman finally as just another confused person struggling with love and loneliness." Oregonian
"Wily, hilarious and dispiriting all at once, Zoë Heller's new novel...may well make you laugh and wince at the same time." Seattle Times
"Her mixed motives for concocting such a voyeuristic tall tale are ultimately what give Heller's novel its queasy, heartbreaking kick. 'For most people,' Barbara says, 'honesty is such an unusual departure from their standard modus operandi such an aberration in their workaday mendacity.' Her own mendacity is more refined, wonderfully entertaining, and deeply (which is to say tragically) unconscious." James Marcus, The Atlantic Monthly
(read the entire Atlantic review
Schoolteacher Barbara Covett has known none but the most solitary of lifestyles until Sheba Hart joins St. George's. Starting by sharing lunches, then family events, the new art teacher draws Barbara into a touching confidence. Unbeknownst to their colleagues, however, another relationship blossoms meanwhile: Sheba has begun a passionate affair with an underage male student. When the details come to light and Sheba falls prey to the inevitable media circus, Barbara decides to write an account in her friends defense revealing not only Sheba's secrets but her own.
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize Now the Major Motion Picture Notes on a Scandal Schoolteacher Barbara Covett has led a solitary life until Sheba Hart, the new art teacher at St. George's, befriends her. But even as their relationship develops, so too does another: Sheba has begun an illicit affair with an underage male student. When the scandal turns into a media circus, Barbara decides to write an account in her friend's defense--and ends up revealing not only Sheba's secrets, but also her own.
About the Author
was born in London and lives in New York City. Currently a columnist for London's Daily Telegraph
, she has contributed to such publications as Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, The Independent, The Sunday Times
(London), and The New Republic
. She is also the author of the novel Everything You Know.