“In pictures like these there are always empty shoes. It’s the shoes that get to me. Sad, that innocent daily task – putting your shoes on your feet, in the firm belief that you’ll be going somewhere.”
In the summer of 1997 I was sitting in my bedroom with three books on my bed all waiting to be read in preparation for studying them in my final year of high school. The collection included A Man for All Seasons, a play by Robert Bolt, The Blooding by Nadia Wheatley and The Hadnmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I fell in love with each of these books all for completely different reasons. A Man for All Seasons appealed the political side of me, the manipulation and deceit was intriguing and I had a real sense that good should prevail (of course it didn’t in the end). It was also a great book to argue over, and I loved a good arguement. Some would say I was something of a stirrer, especially at that stage in my life, and I liked to play the devil’s advocate in class just to see the response. The Blooding was a short novel by an Australian author and the setting, a small town built around the timber industry, was what drew me in. I love novels set in small town Australia. The main character Col, was caught between his love of the forest and his family’s reliance on cutting down that forest to make a living. But the book that made the biggest impression on me that year was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. It was a novel full of adult themes (if that’s not a way to get the attention of a class of teenagers I don’t know what is) and pushed the boundaries of acceptable school reading. I thought it was brilliant and ever since I’ve admired Atwood as a remarkable writer. I’ve not yet been disappointed.
Moral Disorder is classed as a book of short stories, the second collection of short stories by Atwood that I’ve read. However, this one has the same protagonist running through it, so together they weave something of a broader storyline, if a little sketchy in detail when put together. The stories centre around Nell and piece together her life from childhood to her 60s, though they jump around in time and it takes some attention to put it all together. As well as jumping around chronologically each story focuses of a different relationship in her life, with her parents, her sister, her husband, her husband’s ex-wife and even her real estate agent (though some are these are visited more than once).
Some have said this is a depressing work on the reality of aging. I didn’t find that at all. To me it was refreshingly real and mundane, in the way that Atwood can write about mundane in the most wonderful way. Sure it has Atwood’s classic, slightly dark, undertones and some stages of Nell’s life are less than ideal but she is never broken by what life throws at her. Having said that I am still in some confusion about the very first short story. I read it thinking I don’t think I’m smart enough to understand this (I do find short story writers get a little too symbolic or intellectual for me), but the subsequent stories were not like that at all and it was so worth sticking with.
This is definitely a book I would recommend, it’s not long and it’s not difficult to read, but you do probably have to be an Atwood fan to enjoy it. And if you haven’t read anything by her yet you really should. You’ll either love her or you won’t, but if you do there are some real treasures awaiting you. Is there an author you feel this way about? And tell me, what did you think of the books you read in your final year at school? I feel like I might be the only one who truly loved their Year 12 novels.