Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Review Time...

Moral Disorder — Margaret Atwood

(Great link with an excellent summary and description of the book.)

In my many years of reading and discussing Margaret Atwood’s books, I’ve discovered there’s a certain segment of society that does not enjoy her work. I don’t get that — but I accept it.

I happen to love her books. I find her writing magical. I often pause while reading and say to myself, “Yes, that’s how it feels,” or “How does she know that?” Or, I simply find a sentence or paragraph worth reading over and over for its sheer beauty and meaning.

Moral Disorder is a book of short stories with recurring characters. It is Nell’s story. And not only is it Nell and Tig’s love story, it is also the story of Nell learning to love herself. She recounts her journey from her past to her present — from childhood to old age.

Atwood guides us all on this journey and while we’re traveling with Nell, we are able to recapture some of our own past. And, yes, come to a better understanding of it. Atwood’s attention to detail, her marvelous descriptive passages and compelling (yet deceptively simple prose) prompt nostalgia, empathy and introspection.

Family dynamics, marriage, divorce, (modern) extended family units, mental illness, the tragic (and yet, dignified) coping with senility and old age — and of course, love — are the subject matter covered. And Atwood does so with gentle humour and a great understanding of the human condition.

Moral Disorder is a wonderful read. It possesses that “Ah…” factor — leaving you with both a sense of satisfaction and one of regret when you’ve come to the end.

As with so many of her other novels, there’s an added bonus for me in this one. Margaret Atwood grew up in Toronto — very near our neighbourhood. In fact, she and my husband grew up in the same neighbourhood. I love being able to recognize certain landmarks of the area as I read her work.


oreneta said...

OK I will start off by saying that I am part of that segment that does not enjoy her work, indeed what I have read of it I have found nearly terminally depressing. I am not taking away from her writing, just she makes me very very blue. I'll try again...which do you recommend..don't say a Handmaid's Tale, because I WON'T read it again.

patricia said...

Great review. I really enjoyed this collection, too. Didn't you notice a change in tone, though? Still very well written, yes, and very perceptive, but not as wickedly sharp and somewhat cynical as her earlier works. Not that it needed to be. At the moment I'm dipping into some of her old stuff -- 'Dancing Girls' to be exact, and you can really notice a difference. But of course, she was younger then, and saw life differently, as we all did.

Do you have a fave Atwood novel? I think mine would have to be Cat's Eye. Brilliant portrayal of how utterly wicked and mean young girls can be.

Beth said...

patricia: My favourite Atwood novel is also Cat's Eye. I remember when I was young (and evil) the gang of girls I hung out with in public school decided that each day someone would be excluded from the gang. What the hell were we thinking? Very funny - ha ha. NOT. Particularly not funny when it was your turn. And as I recall, the girl who thought up this brilliant idea was never excluded. A power thing, I guess.
And I did notice that Atwood was more mellow in her latest book. Which made it a different - but still excellent - Atwood read.

oreneta: I thought of you when I wrote this review because I remember you aren't fond of Atwood's work.
As for a recommendation - see Patricia's comment and my response to it. I do think you would enjoy Cat's Eye (you have daughters and would find that whole young girl thing interesting). I also think you would enjoy Moral Disorder. Not depressing.

patricia said...

You were a mean girl? For shame! ;)

I was never part of any cool crowd as a kid. Except the 'browner' crowd, which really wasn't something to brag about back then. I can distinctly remember in grade 6 a group of girls who all sat together (why did the teachers encourage this?) -- they were all the blonde and blue-eyed, and very pretty, well-dressed girls. I'm not kidding. About 5 or 6 of them at one table in class. And they always stayed together on the playground, as if they were one entity. Like a great big pretty blonde ameoba. Bizzare.

Beth said...

Blonde and blue-eyed. Yes.
Well-dressed. No.
Browner. Yes.
Cool crowd - about two tiers down.
"Loser" gangs can be mean too.
(Why are you and I always travelling to our girlhood pasts?)

Anonymous said...

I don't read books, mostly because I don't have time, but also because I have never been able to find a series that I can fully enjoy. But with the reveiw you have just given I am seriously thinking about borrowing this book form the local library. Thsi book sounds especially interesting to me, especially the old age part (I work with seniors part-time, and see first hand the affects of old age, in most cases it is very sad to watch).

Thanks for sharing!!

Beth said...

coffee mom: It's tough to find reading time when you have little ones.
You could also try Elizabeth Berg's novels. I love them all.

patricia said...

Beth, re: the past thing. It's entirely my fault. Though I am for the most part a happy person who is very content to live in the present, there is a secret part of me who still to this day dwells in the past, re-living old haunts and especially old hurts. You could say and you would be right that I may indeed have
'issues'. I have numerous unfinished short stories tucked away in dusty drawers about events in my life that to this day I can't forget -- maybe one day I'll do something constructive with all this crap. Maybe therapy. But then what would I write about? Heh.

That's why Cat's Eye resonated so strongly with me. I really connected with the main character (I've forgotten her name) who is quite successful in the present, but cannot shake off this obsession with this nasty childhood frenemy. I've had a few of those that I can't quite shake either. I've never encountered another author who has so deftly been able to capture all the many conflicted emotions a grown woman feels when mucking about in her past, than Atwood.

Beth said...

No "fault" or blame to be assigned re: our travels.
Some people are better able to leave the past behind than others.
Before you try therapy, try finishing those short stories in the dusty drawers. (When you have time...)
Trust me, writing about events in the past really can help - it's just a different kind of therapy.