34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Margaret Attwood has to be the most brilliant writer of our time. Her descriptive brilliance penetrates deep into your soul as her words take wing. Her latest work, Moral Disorder, continues the high standard of her other works such as Cat's Eye, Blind Assassin, Oryx and Crake. No matter what genre she dips into, the results are astounding.
This book of short stories, are all connected through the lives of the women of one family. They could be read separately, but together each story adds to the family portrait giving the reader a panoramic view of the three central characters of the book- mother and two daughters.
The way Margaret Attwood describes a daughter trying to get through to her aging mother, lost in reverie or some other country in her mind, makes you want to weep. Her prose is exquisite.
I have never ever never been disappointed with a Margaret Attwood piece and this one is no exception.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2006
A good friend of mine is also an incurable Margaret Atwood "fan" and has reminded me yet again of our shared benign affliction, craving assurance that she still has first dibs on MORAL DISORDER the moment I've soaked up the last word of the last paragraph of the last story. "Buy it yourself," I chide her over tea. "We have to support Canadian authors."
"But it's Margaret who supports us!" she exclaims in mock surprise at my naiveté. And once again we marvel at how succinctly, elegantly and inexhaustibly Atwood keeps on revealing "our" ordinary little stories, bares (and bears) "our" secret little griefs and anxieties, and gives wry sincerity to "our" hopes and aspirations, no matter how tangled and threadbare they may seem.
"Our," of course, refers to the collective and peculiar cultural condition known as being Canadian. It matters not one iota to our national great lady of fiction (both short and long) that most of her readers live well south of the fabled 49th Parallel and that we are no more The Great White North than Wal-Mart. For Atwood, mere geography is simultaneously nothing and everything; in her tales, the terrain of the human heart and its myriad tributaries of experience and feeling are the truly renewable natural resources. Or, as my hungry-to-borrow friend puts it, Margaret Atwood can turn a tired and mundane junk-mail idea --- sibling rivalry, common-law couples, hobby farming, teenage angst --- into soul-stirring literature. Amen to that!
And she does it wholly up to form in MORAL DISORDER, whose rather weighty and officious title is just another of those playful authorial devices that belie this collection's true generosity of spirit. Musing on a rainy afternoon, the friend and I decide over our second cup of tea that the book's chosen title could have mimicked any of the 11 lightly connected tales between its covers. How about "The Entities," "White Horse," "The Other Place," "The Labrador Fiasco," or (my personal favorite) "The Art of Cooking and Serving"?
Each title presents itself as tantalizing, slightly mysterious, and ready to give you more than expected, while still keeping back a few secrets of its own. And that strikes me as being quintessentially Atwood. At each turn in the fictional trail she scratches down through an artfully assembled patchwork of characters, relationships and events to show the persistence and poignancy of truth just below the surface.
MORAL DISORDER is good for a week of rainy afternoons, and more. Although we Canadians are known for being generous, my advice is: Don't be too quick to loan this latest Atwood gem out. It's truly a "keeper."
--- Reviewed by Pauline Finch [..]
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2006
I bought this book a week ago and finished it yesterday. I wanted to savor each of the stories and not rush through through the book. As a contemporary of Atwood's, I could relate to the periods and relationships she so brilliantly describes. The final story, "The Boys at the Lab," I was able to read on two levels--the description of the decline of the narrator's 90+ mother and recollection (only by photos in an album) of a magical period of her childhood.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2007
I didn't care for the first story, but I kept on and found the rest of the book more to my liking. And after I read the rest of the book, I understood how the first story fit in. The stories fit together loosely, as episodes from a woman's life. Many chapters focus on her relationships with others - trying to be a good helper to her mother, overwhelmed with a difficult baby; trying to help her sister when she is a still troubled adult; making a life with her lover and his sons on a rural farmstead; dealing with his first wife; handling the aging of her parents, and more. I liked the unromantic descriptions of life on a farm, which show all the difficulties and messes while still revealing how this life could be appealing. I liked the secondary characters, who seem to have lives and personalities of their own even if they only show up for a few pages. I LOVED the story about her father's memory loss, interspersed with a description of an ill-fated historic trek. I actually turned back and instantly re-read that chapter, something I'm not sure I've ever done before. I would give that story 5 stars.
I hadn't read any Atwood in years, and now I'm excited to read what I've missed!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2007
This book did not start out the best, during the first story, I nearly set the book aside, ready to call this one a loss. But I made it through the first story and found myself very fascinated by most of the others. This book chronicles a girl's life through chapters that are stories unto themselves that skip around and back and forth in time. Margaret Atwood's writing style is very smooth and vivid.
An enjoyable read, however, I did not find it extraordinary either. I wonder if I would enjoy some of her previous works better and am considering picking one up (any suggestions from Atwood fans?). I wasn't a huge fan of the structure of the book, going from here to there in time with short stories.
Overall, a decent book that I'd imagine fans of Atwood's previous works would have a much better appreciation for than I did.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2006
To learn the prosaic facts about 20th century Canada, such as the year Labrador signed up for the federation, read a history book I guess. To spark that far-flung federation into life before your eyes, you can't beat the grandes dames of Canadian letters, Alice Munro (born 1931) and Margaret Atwood (born 1939).
Atwood's fiction collection follows up Curious Pursuits, her absorbing non-fiction collection of 2005. Loosely it is a kind of life-survey, phases of Atwood's life reframed and reconnected in fictional terms, covering a girl's youth and independence, linked stories of a woman's marriage years, and finally perspectives of a woman's parents in the grip of age.
There is a crackling wit and intelligence throughout, but the sharp analysis of human fears and follies is not marred by writerly egotism. Old family items are appropriated, old social movements are laid to rest, while the milk of children's stories is impishly curdled.
The antique cover-photos of a maid's day and evening outfits are borrowed from one Sarah Field Splint's (yes, Atwood relishes the name) "The Art of Cooking and Serving". In the eponymous story, a woman burdened by a late pregnancy "abdicates" from Splint's recommended 1930s household proprieties. Her daughter, rising 12 years, contributes bouts of cooperation and conflict that send her "off and running" into greater liberation.
In the next story, the expectant bump is transformed into an apprehensive little sister, a wan "fairy changeling" much teased. These disturbances resonate down into adulthood. The younger sibling accuses the older of ripping off all the "good parts" in life. On the threshold of their mother's house, the older is overtaken by the eerie "persistence of material objects", the thought that "all doors used regularly are doors to the afterlife".
The teenage girl of "My Last Duchess" negotiates the shoals of formal education and informal arousal, while the next story features an unattached woman fearful of missing "the future that was supposed to be mine". Of course, even when these fears are resolved somewhat by the mature woman's ordinary securities of life, "the dreaming self refuses to be consoled".
Four interconnected stories lift off sometime shortly after the Swinging Sixties have vaulted the 49th parallel, torpedoing staid Canadian rules about wedding rings, husbands and adultery.
In "Monopoly" there is a nod towards Munro's "Open Secrets", an open secret being "something not startling until you think of trying to tell it". Here, it gradually dawns on Nell that she is being groomed to take Oona's place as Tig's partner. Yet, all the while, Tig's moribund marriage looms over Nell in "phosphorescent splendour, like a whale decaying on a beach".
Nell and Tig strike out into the "superior authenticity" of Ontario farm life, but eventually gravitate back into the suburban comforts of Toronto.
The lives and deaths of farm animals are cunningly related to passing phases of their keepers. "Is this Susan we're eating?" the children inquire of the beef pot roast. The peacock loses the plot upon the "murder of his wife", secretive cats are not quite sure how to pay their dues, an unlucky white horse is adopted, and (as if in a fairytale) a man-hating lamb is sacrificially freighted with Nell's reproductive tensions.
In the final story of this foursome, clumsy Oona (Atwood struggles to show mercy to her) dies in the Toronto house where Nell has graciously parked her. Nell is at her wit's end, a phrase whose interior meaning Atwood reconsiders elsewhere. Hilariously (memo to second wives' club: I dare you not to laugh), Nell shifts the lingering ghostly "entities" which might be hindering disposal of the house. Like many a midlife warrior, she is left to wonder about the lasting point if any of "all that anxiety and anger, those dubious good intentions, those tangled lives, that blood".
In Atwood's childhood, her father used to make summer entomology trips into northwestern Quebec. Adapting that history, and also an account of a disastrous 1903 Labrador expedition, the author devises distinctive tributes towards a mother and father. Watch for the precise description of the unusual mother who would always "provide a silence" instead of a lesser woman's socially lubricating white lie.
If you enjoy negotiating the various stages of Moral Disorder, do seek out Munro's 2006 collection "The View from Castle Rock", to see anew how the talented twosome are not dissimilar in their innate capacity and acerb humour, yet rather different in technique and effect.
There remains some denser quality of immersion in Munro's writing, a demure yet competitive determination to clasp the reader tight no matter what the yawning darkness ahead. On the other hand, when Atwood goes for an almost Munroesque shift of historical gears in "The Bad News", I'm not sure it's a total success.
(Canberra Times, 4 November 2006)
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2008
To begin with, I don't understand why this novel is described as a book of short stories. It is a novel with different chapters. I guess you could say any novel is a book of short stories. That was odd to me.
Ultimately, this book is a disappointment. The characters are not likeable, but not unlikable in a sense that they are character studies. They are merely dull people. The main character, Nell, drifts along in a relationship with a very unlikable man, "Tig." He is married to "Oona," has no visible means of support, moves Nell into a dump of a house out in the country, never takes Nell's side in the struggles she has in her life. Nell has a brother, but aside from two or three sentences, he is not in the story, so why did Atwood bother with this character? It is as though she meant to flesh him out, never got around to it, and forgot to delete him from the book. A daughter Tig and Nell had together is mentioned once or twice and never again, too.
There are entire chapters in this book that seem very disconnected from the story, almost like outlines that never got completed. I am referring to "The Other Place," "The Labrador Fiasco," and "The Boys at the Lab." Since the last two chapters mentioned are also the last two chapters in the book, the end of the book is not wrapped up well and leaves you feeling, why did I bother to read this? What was the point? The title of the book does not really tie into the entire work, either, aside from the fact that Nell and Tig lived together out of wedlock. Yawn.
I like to root for or against characters in a work of fiction. I feel this book was very bland. It requires the reader to invest her time and interest, with no ultimate payoff.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2007
This is a thoughtful collection of stories of a progression through life from childhood, teenage, young adult and finally back from the terrifying empty spaces of old age, to extreme youth. Each story has a plot, a moral and interesting people but my favourite was "Entities" which gave me a few laughs to break up the seriousness of the whole book. This part in particular deals with the lives of novices to living in the country on a small holding, and dealing with animals for the first time and is full of good humour and all of the kinds of ridiculous situations which occur to people who find themselves being outsmarted by animals. It's a very "different" kind of book and was a change from the normal type of novel.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
After reading "Moral Disorder", I came away with the impression that this was a rather autobiographical set of short stories. I don't have the slightest clue if that's true or not because I really don't know that much about Canada's greatest author. I've read just about all of her published prose and I have always appreciated her ability to bring us right into the lives of her characters as though she had lived those lives herself. How "Moral Disorder" singularly gave me that impression, I can't say but that's the impression I got.
The first story was a bit akward, I felt, but the next three were very good. We then begin a series of stories that seem like they are in this short story collection because the novel they were meant to be never quite coagulated. The first one, "The Other Place", did not appeal to me because it didn't give me a good enough sense of the characters's inter-relationships. When the next several stories continued on from the first one, I warmed up to the extended family and their developing lifestyle. A story that involved a failed exploration brings an interesting aura of suspense to the collection as does the final story about a woman who yearns to know her mother through the photo album she compiled.
"Moral Disorder" is about understanding our relationships with one another. It has a distinct family theme and shows a person's serious efforts to understand various family members by understanding their past. It left me in an introspective frame of mind.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2007
Margaret Atwood's collection of stories, "Moral Disorder," is definitely worth a read by her true fans. However, newcomers to her work should start elsewhere: "Alias Grace" or "Oryx and Crake" would be good choices.
I'll preface my review by saying that I'm not a huge fan of short stories in general; I dislike their incompleteness and the limited time they give readers to get to know a character. Most (if not all?) of the stories in this collection focused on one character at disparate moments in her lifetime, and this continuity kept the collection from feeling too discombobulated. Atwood's prose and character development shone in several of the stories, while others (such as the last one) seemed weaker. The last story (can't recall the title) seemed the most autobiographical and I had therefore hoped for more, but I just couldn't get into it. Some stories were reminiscent of "The Robber Bride" and others of "Cat's Eye".
On the whole, "Moral Disorder" was an enjoyable and quick read. Not a masterpiece, but nonetheless a worthy addition to the Atwood canon.