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Description - Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood has frequently been cited as one of the foremost writers of our time. Moral Disorder, her new work of fiction, could be seen as a collection of eleven stories that is almost a novel or a novel broken up into eleven stories. It resembles a photograph album - a series of clearly observed moments that trace the course of a life, and the lives intertwined with it - those of parents, siblings, children, friends, enemies, teachers and even animals. And as in a photograph album, times change; every decade is here, from the 1930s through the 50s, 60s and 70s to the present day. The settings are equally varied: large cities, suburbs, farms, northern forests. The first story, 'The Bad News,' is set in the present, as a couple no longer young situate themselves in a larger world no longer safe. Then the narrative switches time, as the central character moves through childhood and adolescence, in 'The Art of Cooking and Serving', 'The Headless Horseman' and 'My Last Duchess'. We follow her into young adulthood in 'The Other Place', and then through a complex relationship, traced in four of the stories - 'Monopoly', 'Moral Disorder', 'White Horse' and 'The Entities'. The last two stories, 'The Labrador Fiasco' and 'The Boys at the Lab', deal with the heartbreaking old age of parents, but circle back to childhood again, to complete the cycle. By turns funny, moving, lyrical, incisive, tragic, earthy, shocking and deeply personal, Moral Disorder displays Atwood's celebrated storytelling gifts and inimitable style to their best advantage. As the New York Times has said, 'Atwood has complete access to her people's emotional histories, complete understanding of their hearts and imaginations.'

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780747581628
ISBN-10: 0747581622
Format: Hardback
(216mm x 135mm x mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date: 4-Sep-2006
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Book Reviews - Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood

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Book Review: Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood - Reviewed by (11 Jan 2010)

TITLE: Moral Disorder AUTHOR: Margaret Atwood PUBLISHER:Bloomsbury (Oct. 2006) ISBN: 9780747581628 505pages

Reviewed by Ann Skea (

Moral Disorder is a strange title for a book of short stories which read like chapters in an autobiography. The photograph on the cover, to, is disconcerting. It shows two views of a young woman standing rather stiffly in front of the camera. She is dressed in out-dated clothes and in one picture she wears white stockings and shoes; in the other, black. Aspects of a personality perhaps? Chapter two of the book, 'The Art of Cooking and Serving', suggests as much: "one can transform an untidy, inexperienced girl into a well-groomed, professional servant if one is patient and kind and fair" says the old-fashioned household-management guide which is the favourite book of the young girl in this story. The girl, who is just entering puberty, describes her rather isolated life helping her sick mother to care for her new little sister, and she describes her first serious challenge to her mother's authority. Her transformation as a result of this sudden burst of independence is the reverse of that in the household management book. She could be Margaret Atwood remembering a significant episode in her life, as could the narrators of the stories in the rest of the book, but it is dangerous to make assumptions.

This danger is demonstrated in the very first chapter of the book. 'The Bad News' begins with a modern woman describing a quite ordinary early-morning routine, but the story makes a sudden and disorientating jump back into ancient Rome. Not much changes in the narrative except the setting and a few details, and the narrator seems to be the same woman. Life, too, seems much the same - "gossip and rumour", dining, entertaining - and the woman is still able to complain that "You never know if the news is true until it pounces".

Margaret Atwood is never predictable, and in this book she seems to delight in teasing the reader by suggesting that these stories are autobiographical. There is a photograph at the front of the book which shows a white horse and three sheep outside a barn. Did she take the photograph? And is the horse the white horse owned by the narrator of a later story, and the sheep the three ewes of another chapter? It is tantalizing, but it matters not at all. These stories are all pure Atwood; and they are all Atwood in her very best word-weaving, story-telling form. Her wit and humanity make each of them a perceptive, vivid glimpse of its narrator's life. The dilemmas of a woman's relationship with a married man; the struggle for identity; the complexities of sibling love, rivalry and duty; the changing and delicate balance which exists between children and their aging parents: Atwood draws us into each situation with skill and sensitivity.

Moral Disorder is Atwood telling stories just as she did in Wilderness Tips and Bluebeard's Egg. The grim mood which pervaded The Tent is gone, and love, humour and a more hopeful mood prevail. This is mature Atwood writing at her very best, and it is a delight to read.

Copyright © Ann Skea 2006

Ann Skea Website and Ted Hughes pages:

Author Biography - Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than thirty books of fiction, poetry and critical essays. In addition to the classic The Handmaid's Tale, her novels include Cat's Eye, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy, and The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize. Her most recent novel, Oryx and Crake, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

Books By Margaret Atwood

Secret Loves Of Geeks by Margaret Atwood
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Brave New World by Margaret Atwood
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Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
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Devils You Know by Margaret Atwood
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