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Moral Disorder
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 16 January 2008
What an unusual book! On the surface it is a series of short stories, almost thrown carelessly together and telling the life of a Canadian woman from childhood through to old age.

Along the way, various themes are introduced, some glancingly and others returned to from varying viewpoints in a number of different stories. Children and their parents are visited at the beginnings of life for one and nearing the end for the other. There is a wonderful account of a teenage girl becoming immersed in the study of literature with `a lot of ground still to cover' before the crucial end-of-school-years examination. Atwood skewers the 1970s - from the penniless central character, Nell, painting a second hand dining table orange through to `adultery' being `not a cool word' where `to pronounce it was a social gaffe'. A sister's mental health problems appear at times severe and deteriorating irreparably whilst at others they impress more as a misperception or a temporary fluctuation.

Perhaps the most persistent theme is the centrality of stories, either in the form of established literature or as fondly repeated favourite anecdotes from real life. But what is really distinctive about this book is its structure - eleven short stories, not all arranged chronologically, some written in the first and some the third person. The position in time of the `author' of some of these is also unusual; a story can end with a paragraph or two saying in effect that the events just described had taken place years ago and that things are now very different.

One interpretation of this strange structure is that the stories, some of which were published separately over a number of years, have merely been shoe-horned to hang untidily together in book form. But surely Atwood is too skilled and careful a writer to succumb to such laziness - it would take very little effort, after all, to tweak and rearrange these into a conventional cradle to grave account.

I prefer instead to see this as a subtle statement about the ways in which we really give an account to ourselves of our lives in an episodic and thematic fashion. So, instead of `chapter one my childhood', `chapter two my teens' and so on, we might think of long-lived themes such as our changing relationships with our parents and perhaps more intense and time-constrained events such as the death of somebody close or sexual awakening during puberty.

And in the book Atwood's themes can be seen to have a beginning, a middle and, in true short story fashion, a gentle thud or a wistful speculation with which to finish. There is a sense that she is experimenting not only with the deep structure of book composition but also with the way in which we `author' our own lives.

In many ways this is not one of Margaret Atwood's `big books' but I found it an extremely enjoyable and accessible read - and one that won't yet let me put it down and move on to something new.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 September 2007
The previous reviewer has summed this up quite nicely actually. It is a lovely book and well worth reading but I didn't enjoy the last two 'stories' as much as the others, hence 4/5 rather than 5/5.

The book will be enjoyed by Margaret Atwood fans and I think readers new to her work might enjoy it as a starting point because it's a simple but fascinating read. Nothing complicated, no morals as such. It's purely a story about family life. This edition doesn't say that it's a series of stories on the front whilst others do. Therefore if you want a complete novel I'd select something else. Whilst it isn't short stories as such, in that the same characters keep surfacing; the stories are complete units of life. Having said this, they all link together somehow.

Short enough to read in one sitting or spread out longer depending on how much you like to take in or deliberate as you're reading. Having finished this I could easily go straight on to another book by her which is testament to how different each of her books are; usually I'd have to have a break in between authors.

Well worth reading!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 February 2010
Margaret Atwood is my go-to girl when I want to read a book I know will be good. This is a structure I'm interested in--interconnected short stories. Together, they have an overarching theme and arc, but they're complete each in their own right.

Moral Disorder at first glance seems almost haphazard. There's a story set in contemporary times, an d then an ancestor of that main character voices the rest of the collection. The stories weave their way through the decades, from the 30s to the present day. Nell describes her aimless vagabond youth, where she traveled from city to city, never able to settle down. When she finally does settle down, it's in a creaky old farmhouse in the Canadian countryside with another woman's husband. She grows and develops through the story, although she's always a slightly sad, pitiful character.

The stories have an odd feeling to them...whimsical or dreamy, perhaps? They're like memories, with flashes of vivid details, and others that are hazy. Sometimes the endings snap to a close, or they fade and fizzle.

It's a story about family history. Usually, I find those boring. But Atwood writes so well that she could write about the history of carp migrations and I would probably read it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 October 2007
The previous reviewer has summed this up quite nicely actually. It is a lovely book and well worth reading but I didn't enjoy the last two 'stories' as much as the others, hence 4/5 rather than 5/5.

The book will be enjoyed by Margaret Atwood fans and I think readers new to her work might enjoy it as a starting point because it's a simple but fascinating read. Nothing complicated, no morals as such. It's purely a story about family life. This edition doesn't say that it's a series of stories on the front whilst others do. Therefore if you want a complete novel I'd select something else. Whilst it isn't short stories as such, in that the same characters keep surfacing; the stories are complete units of life. Having said this, they all link together somehow.

Short enough to read in one sitting or spread out longer depending on how much you like to take in or deliberate as you're reading. Having finished this I could easily go straight on to another book by her which is testament to how different each of her books are; usually I'd have to have a break in between authors.

Well worth reading!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 October 2008
This is the first Margaret Atwood book I have read and I was very impressed. The writing was amazing and the short stories follow on from each other almost seamlessly. Each story portrays a different age - from childhood (with the birth of a younger sister) throughout life up until late middle age (with nursing an aged mother).

In fact the stories are so connected, I had actually lost sight of the fact that they were short stories - and therefore I was suprised when the voice changed half way through the book from the first to the third person. I had become used to the more personal approach and felt a little disappointed - it took a while to adjust to the new tone.
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36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on 6 February 2007
'Moral Disorder' has an interesting structure - it's not quite a novel, but nor is it a collection of short stories. Perhaps it's best described as a fictional life story told in bursts, some in the first person, some in the second. We follow the central female character from early childhood through adolescence through marriage to older age, with the plight of her mentally ill sister hovering in the background.

From a purely plot-based point of view, 'Moral Disorder' isn't especially original or exciting, although Atwood's decision to make the central character's most important relationship a controversial one (she is her husband's second wife, before that his live-in partner and prior to that a mistress - all in the 1970s) is interesting. It is all told in Margaret's wonderful poetic style and fans will not be disappointed, although newcomers to her work may be better off with a more traditionally planned novel.
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on 8 April 2015
these are stories about real people; taken all together, they read like a memoir, although each story stands alone, As in real life, there are loose ends, inexplicable events; people change with the passage of time, their opinions are modified; there are no good guys or bad guys, just people some of whom you like more than others, As you read, you find yourself thinking over episodes in your own life and seeing them in a different light, perhaps understanding what was really going on a little better than before.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Classic Atwood. Linked stories full of perception and mordant wit in language flowing, succint and completely individual. Such a good storyteller of our era.
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on 5 October 2014
Very tatty copy - not as described.
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on 16 March 2015
v good - as described
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