Sunday, September 27, 2009

Book Review by Aimee: Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan

Margo Lanagan is not human. I say this with absolute certainty because I know no human could write this good. Margo has obviously employed the services of some local sorceress to gift her the ability to transform readers with her writing - I'm only curious as to what the price for such a gift might be.

Tender Morsels, then, is an expansion of the classic story of Snow White and Rose Red. And like all the best fairy stories and fairy story retellings, the beauty, light and happiness of Tender Morsels emerges from the blackest of shadows.

Liga Longfield is a teenage girl surviving in what appears to be a traditional European-fable-style village. I say 'surviving', as her existence consists of physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Unbeknowst to Liga, the local witch of the village (who was actually a pretty, spunky young thing back in her day) takes pity on Liga's situation. Liga is transported to a personal Utopia in which she raises her two beautiful girls, the angelic Branza and the whirlwind Urrda, in a perfect bubble of safety away from the troubles, sorrows and evils of Liga's former world.

But AS WE ALL KNOW, those in the truest business of fairytales can rarely live "happily ever after", ever after.

As the girls bloom into adolescence, the fabric between the heaven of Liga's created world and the purported hell of another existence begins to thin and rip. A dwarf in search of treasure makes his way into Liga's heaven and meets the two girls. Men in the form of bears requiring Liga's hospitality also accidentally cross worlds. And Urdda, curious and yearning for what lies beyond the rabbithole, finds her own way into a place where evils exist.

Tender Morsels is equal parts tender and savage, wicked and compassionate, light and dark. I have read other reviews and the comments on the reviews have been hesitant, wondering whether this book might be too depressing. But unlike Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (see review here), the book is not entirely desolate. There are sparks of adventure, and desire and hope in the thick tangle of magic and sin.

A warning though, for the eager YA lovers. This is, in a sense, a demanding novel - those who are used to the easy fumblings of many recent YA 'faerie' novels may find the language in this book difficult to navigate. Let me clarify that point, the writing IS superb, and use of words are careful but not sparse. I have no doubt though, that YA enthusiasts who appreciate poetry and art through the structure of sentences and the images they evoke will find it in abundance between these pages. Further on this point, the themes also necessitate a certain level of maturity. Which begs the question as to why this is marketed as simply a Young Adult novel. BUT I've pretty much given up on those publishers and agents who think that because the protagonist is a teen, or because it's a fairytale, it must automatically be for children and teens alone. If any of you have seen the movie Pan's Labyrinth, you will know what I mean by how silly it was for a parent take a child of 3 to watch it, which is what happened at my theatre viewing! They must've complained about false advertising - I'm sure the kid had many sleepless nights afterwards...

At its deepest root, Tender Morsels is an exploration of gender, of power, of understanding and knowledge, and of that necessary crossover from innocence to experience. The characters are passionate, strong, full of folly, capable of great rights and great wrongs. The story is rich and creamy with symbolism and the writing is delicately strange to taste. Each word is to be marvelled at for its carefully chosen position within the wider text, but the overall story has the desired combined effect of the sparkling lyrical and deceptively simple - it makes the fable grooowwwwl and ROAR into its quiet corners.

What's more, the author's imagination feels limitless...I'm dumbstruck by it. This novel constructs worlds that you FEEL A PART OF - I actually feel like I'm co-existing right now, shifting between here and the worlds within the book. I can still smell the apples on the trees, the leaves burning in the forest woods, I can hear the laughter of children and the slow paw-movement of the bears... I want to be swept up like those leaves from the woods and sat in a pile on a woodcutter's cottage doorstep, waiting for my own bear-man to come and play with me over a summer that never cares to end...{insert sigh of full and deep longing HERE}.......

There are times in your reading life when you come across a piece of writing that not only speaks to your heart, but listens when your heart speaks back. This is one of those books for me. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan now sits on my favourite shelf along with His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman; The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis; Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, by Lewis Carroll; and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.

I don't expect you to feel as strongly about this book unless you have the exact same taste in books as me - it's unlikely. But if you enjoy Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen-style fairytales, or if you enjoy writing that feels like you're eating a particularly good sour cherry tart with an extra dollop of cream, then please FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY... move this one up your TBR list.

I adore it.

5 stars.


Emily Cross said...

wow. you completely sold me! Its sounds amazing, i'll definitely add this to tbr pile - thank you!

Briony said...


I am so excited to read this book.