I read Zoe Heller's Notes on a Scandal again yesterday. I read it last year, too, and was amazed not just at the characters, at the wonderful way Heller created such interesting individuals, but at the way she wrote about loneliness. To me, that is the best part of the book: the way it explores how it really feels to be lonely, and what that feeling does to people.
"People like Sheba think that they know what it's like to be lonely. They cast their minds back to the time they broke up with a boyfriend in 1975 and endured a whole month before meeting someone new. Or the week they spent in a Bavarian steel town when they were fifteen years old, visiting their greasy-haired German pen pal and discovering that her handwriting was the best thing about her. But about the drip, drip of long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing. They don't know what it is to construct an entire weekend around a visit to the laundrette. Or to sit in a darkened flat on Halloween night, because you can't bear to expolse your bleak evening to a crowd of jeering trick-or-treaters. Or to have the librarian smile pityingly and say, "Goodness, you're a quick reader!" when you bring back seven books, read from cover to cover, a week after taking them out. They don't know what it is to be so chronically untouched that the accidental brush of a bus conductor's hand on your shoulder sends a jolt of longing straight to your groin. I have sat on park benches and trains and school room chairs, feeling the great store of unused, objectless love sitting in my belly like a stone until I was sure I would cry out and fall, flailing to the ground. About all of this, Sheba and her like have no clue."
Maybe, one day, if I'm really really lucky, I'll write something that good.