“Moral Disorder” by Margaret Atwood

Inside the front cover of the hardback edition of this book, it says that this book can be “seen as a collection of eleven stories that is almost a novel or a novel broken up into eleven stories.” The stories are all tales of a female character at various stages in life, and set in a variety of time and place, perhaps even, in the first story, on an alternative world or society.

I hadn’t read the inside in the book jacket when I started it and had no idea what the book was about, so at first it seemed like a series of disjointed short stories, all told from the female perspective, but after the sixth story/chapter, things started falling into place. I realised that the first chapter was the main character in old age, then from the second chapter onwards, we were seeing a snapshot of a different time or event in her life, moving onwards to understand how she became the person she was back in the first story.

Although there is a narrative running through the stories, my feeling was that they were really about how we perceive, judge and rationalise people and events within our own minds, giving a very introverted take on the life of an individual. Once I was able to embrace this concept (at chapter six), I could better appreciate the book, and I actually went back and skim read the first five chapters again before finishing it.

Having said that, the first chapter is still a bit of an enigma to me; is this supposed to be an alternate world or society? I still don’t understand the relevance of the political references in the first chapter and how it fits in with the rest of the stories, which all seem to be much more “normal” and in line with our own society.

I’m still not sure if I enjoyed the book, although once I understood what was going on, I did feel more encouraged to continue with it. It did make me think about the difference between the person we are in our heads compared to the persona we display to others, and that made it an interesting, challenging and thought-provoking read.

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