Moral Disorder is composed of about ten short stories, all involving the same Canadian family at various stages of their lives, and featuring various members of said family, with Nell at the forefront. Nell goes from an eleven-year-old girl who learns she’s about to become a big sister, to caretaker of her sister (who ends up with a mental illness), to a mistress of a man she falls in love with whose wife asks her to fill the void in her husband’s life. The stories go back and forth in time, painting a picture of Nell’s life that is nonlinear, but mostly complete.
One day, I hope to say that I’ve read all of Margaret Atwood’s books. She is an author I truly enjoy, respect, and can’t really get enough of. So it was with quite a bit of hope and excitement that I opened Moral Disorder, and unfortunately, it wasn’t everything I had hoped it to be.
My first problem with the book is really my issue alone. I don’t know if I’m just slow, or what… but I didn’t realize until I read more reviews of this book that all the stories centered around Nell. Several of the stories didn’t mention her name (even though she was narrating them, apparently I didn’t “get” that the narrator was Nell), and so I was unsure exactly who was involved in which stories. This definitely detracted from my enjoyment of the book – after all, I was supposed to understand that this character was the same person throughout all the stories, and that completely escaped me.
Also, I didn’t find the stories themselves to be terribly compelling. Some I enjoyed, but for the most part they fell flat for me and I never found myself immersed in the characters or what was happening to them. Perhaps it’s because Atwood’s talent lies so much in the slow build, in keeping the reader guessing, and allowing the reader to slowly get to know and fall in love with her characters, that her particular style of writing didn’t translate so well to short stories. Or maybe I just didn’t like them, I don’t know. But it didn’t work for me overall.
BUT I’m still glad I read it, because eventually I would like to read all of Atwood’s books, and this is one of them! So there’s one positive.