Christine Strelan - Between the Covers

Moral Disorder

Margaret Atwood

Bloomsbury 2006

A title like this is hard to resist, especially when its a collection of short stories by Margaret Atwood. A Canadian national treasure, Atwood is a prolific writer who has managed to maintain a high standard in all her work. Whether its fiction, non-fiction, poetry or kids books, you know youre in for a stimulating time when you pick up a book with her name on the cover. These stories dont have the mind-blowing scope of her best novels, but theyre still a fascinating read. Alternating between a first-person memoir style and a third-person narrator, she tells the tale of a womans family, from her childhood through to old age. Though each story is self-contained, they share characters and themes. Mundane objects or events are often used as metaphors for emotional situations; a piece of furniture or a pet can inspire life-changing epiphanies. Her main concerns are the dynamics between parents and children, husbands and wives. She ranges from childbirth through to an ageing parents regression to infancy, examining the way memory can distort or illuminate connections between people. Her characters spend time roughing it out in the country, which gives the stories a strong autobiographical element. Atwoods parents were unconventional for their time, and went bush with their young children in the Canadian wilderness.As an author, Atwoods persona is wise and sharply observant, with a self-mocking wit: In my more rebellious moments I asked myself why I should care about being shut out of the Noahs Ark of coupledom in effect a glorified zoo, with locks on the bars and fodder dished out at set intervals. I wouldnt allow myself to be tempted; Id keep my distance; Id stay lean and wolf-like, and skirt the edges. I would be a creature of the night, in a trenchcoat with the collar turned up, pacing between streetlights, my heels making an impressively hollow and echoing sound, casting a long shadow before me, having serious thoughts about topics of importance.

I found Moral Disorder thoroughly absorbing. Its an ideal thinking-persons holiday read; the stories are short enough to be instantly accessible, but thoughtful enough to engage the brain.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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