Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood

Before my recent trip east, I had finished another book by Margaret Atwood…so, before I place it on the bookshelf, I thought I’d make a few notes.  This book, Moral Disorder, is a collection of interconnected narratives that span a number of decades.  Having heard Margaret Atwood speak at this year’s teacher’s convention, I feel that, again, some of the settings and characters are influenced by the writer’s own childhood and family.

It seems that I am writing on particular themes as I post today, among them, the idea of life snapshots.  This book, similarly, captures and sustains the experiences of childhood, parenting, celebration and grief through the development of various voices around Tig and Nell.  The context for me, demanded empathy, given a sense of the same collective nostalgia and life landmarks apparent in The History of Love.  The following excerpt, found here.

Dealing with her aging mother, watching her look at her photographs for the last time as she sinks into blindness, trying to tease her into remembering pieces of her past, Nell seems to be pre-visioning her own future. Though there is nothing overtly supernatural in this collection, the author has the art of weaving the teller into the tale and blending the characters into one another’s lives so that the end result is something magical.”

A.S. Byatt, in 2006, writes for the Washington Post, Times of Her Life.

“We are such stuff/ As dreams are made on,” says Prospero, “And our little life/ Is rounded with a sleep.” Moral Disorder is cunningly constructed of the vagaries of memory and is rounded by Alzheimer’s and forgetting. Nell, Tig and Nell’s sister test themselves for failing memory as they ruefully allow for failing knees. There is a moving, evocative story of Nell’s father, after a stroke, inhabiting a story Nell reads to him, of three explorers disastrously astray in Labrador. There is a plain and very sad tale of Nell’s mother, reduced to immobility, her memories slipping away, though living on, briefly, in a different form, in Nell’s own memories. The mother dreams a repeating dream of being lost, and no one, no thing, being there, only the empty sky and a logjam she tries to climb. This tale, like all these tales, is both grim and delightful, because it is triumphantly understood and excellently written. ·


A.S. Byatt is a writer of novels and stories. Her latest book is “Little Black Book Of Stories.”






The Fullness of Life: Reading The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

I have a horrible anxiety around flying.  I would much rather drive the Trans Canada highway a dozen times than to travel, by air, to Ottawa from Calgary once.  As it turns out, the flight to my mother and father and sister and her family, turned out to be a beautiful flight.  I ended up taking my cousin’s approach, once shared before I took off…that as I looked down, I should be thinking about the glorious divine and all that is huge and magnificent and totally out of my grasp.  So, from my window seat, I kept focus on the patterns of land and weaving rivers…huge bodies of water…and clouds…that spread out below me by 37,000 feet.  When I wasn’t resting my cold forehead against the window, I was reading The History of Love.

There are many writers/readers who have written in-depth critiques and reviews on the book; I simply wish to convey a few brief thoughts on the book and to recommend it to my readers.

The voices of the characters are so absolutely clear and so unique, that I was able to engage their narratives as a way to journey into the depth of my own heart.  Leo and Alma both shared with me poignant moments that lifted me out of my own experience, in order to be spoken to, in some critical way, about how love matters.  I was able to be that man at the end of his life…I was able to be that young girl who sought desperately to resolve the pain and loneliness that existed within her own family.  This is a book that matters.

The monologue of Nicole Krauss that I include below is a very important one.  Try to follow it to minute 14…listen to what she says about creating ourselves…about memory…about the stories that we carry with us.


Swann by Carol Shields

Swann by Carol Shields

I’m engrossed in the novel, Swann by Carol Shields and because I am, it is moving slowly.  I am eating up and treasuring every single word, especially where the character development is involved.  In fact, the characters are so real to me that one day I found myself doing an internet search for the poet, Mary Swann.  She is so elusive and Shields writes Mary’s life as an isolated woman in rural Canada, so believably.  Mary Swann is someone the reader wants to know, especially as bits and pieces of her memory disappear…a journal…a dictionary…a photograph.  For me these become symbols of her tragic and brutal ending.  What motivates Mary to write?  Where does she find the words?  Poignant.  Nostalgic.  I absolutely celebrate the act of turning on my reading light, pulling up the covers and spending time with a good book!

Maggie Kawalerczak reviews Swann here…I think she is ‘bang on’ with this particular review.  I chuckled as I read, In fact, if I may generalize, there is certain “Canadianness” to the material.  This, I believe to be an accurate assessment of this ‘mystery’.  I am consistently drawn to Canadian content and respond to regional settings (landscapes I know so well), the sorts of characters that reside in these settings and that particular style/expression of Canadian authors and their words.  What is that particularity?  The same goes for Canadian film, doesn’t it?

Mary Swann, herself, is an enigma.  I am captivated by this book!