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Tender Morsels (thoughts)

June 20, 2009

Once Upon a Time IIIToday the third Once Upon a Time Challenge officially ends. It’s always a wonderful time, and this round I read eleven books! Many of them were five star reads, and so before I do my wrap-up, I want to make sure they all get reviewed. You’ll be hearing about several tomorrow in the answers to those questions I encouraged you to ask. But today, I’m going to talk about Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. Nymeth wrote a wonderful review, and told me in the comments that she thought I’d love it, despite the seemingly dark subject matter.

She was completely right. In my review of Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician earlier this week, I captured the ‘OMG’ moment I feel when I’ve just finished the kind of book that will stay with me forever, even change how I see the world. I felt the same thing when I finished Tender Morsels, something like this

OMG! Is that really the end?! But I miss the characters! Maybe I should just start at the beginning again! OMG! Must go read more of Lanagan right now! I feel so sorry for people who don’t read! OMG! How am I ever going to review this?!

tender-morselsI want to stress that although the beginning of the book is sad (Liga, the main character, is sexually abused by her father, which is how her first daughter Branza is conceived, then gang raped by village boys, which results in her second daughter Urdda), I wouldn’t call this a dark book. After the opening, even though Liga, Branza, and Urdda face various challenges, and aren’t always happy, nothing horrible happens again. Lanagan doesn’t torture her characters, or use sad events to manipulate the reader’s emotions (can you tell that bothers me?). And the rapes themselves aren’t described in any detail, only implied; there’s no weird voyeurism or anything. So if you’ve been hesitating to read it based on the plot description, I’m here to tell you to pick it up anyway.

This is a beautiful, complicated book, that I will definitely be buying in the future so that I can reread it to my heart’s content. There’s certainly a fairy tale feel to it; at the end of the opening, pregnant Liga and baby Branza are whisked away to Liga’s idea of heaven. It’s similar to her home village, but without any mean or prying people, and Liga happily begins raising her two little girls in a quiet cottage (if you’ve read “Snow White and Rose Red,” you’ll definitely see parallels!). But then a ‘mudwife’ in the village Liga left behind unintentionally creates an opening into the heaven, and from that moment it’s just a matter of time until Liga, Branza, and Urdda have to return to the world Liga ran away from so long ago. Meanwhile, young men taking part in the village’s annual spring festival, in which they dress up as bears and run about the village, occasionally find themselves transported to Liga’s heaven, as real bears. About two-thirds of the way through, they return to the village, and must try to figure out how to live lives among real people, instead of Liga’s imagined ones.

I loved this book, because I thought it was wonderfully sweet and at the same time completely honest about the tragedies and scariness in any life. The ending was perfect, although completely not what I expected, which makes it just that much better. And throughout the large cast of characters, I loved the large majority of them, taking an interest in their lives and hoping that things would work out for the best. But I’m finding it hard to convey all of that to you: I find myself wanting to write theses on the how she captured the vulnerability women always feel and try to overcome, on how amazingly her characters develop, on the interesting changes in narrative tone, on how fairy tales can speak directly to the twenty-first century. But that still wouldn’t capture the intensity I feel towards this book. Tender Morsels is for anyone who has ever wanted to just hide under the covers instead of dealing with life. And for anyone who has had to overcome some horrible event in their past, going on to find hope and happiness. And for anyone who loves characters that feel like real people. And for anyone who adores beautiful prose. In other words, everyone should read this book. Soon.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2009 2:48 pm

    This is on my list. I’m really looking forward to it.

  2. June 20, 2009 3:03 pm

    I have been considering the move to WordPress, too, because it seems so much more streamlined. AND I can’t figure out how to work three-columns in Blogger, whereas it seems like it’s a standard option on WordPress. Your new blog looks great!

    Also, thanks for signing up for Rosie’s Riveters! I’ll probably try to do the first one next week, and then it can be your turn :-) If you want to give me your e-mail address, then we can figure out what format you’d like best.

  3. June 20, 2009 3:07 pm

    Wow, Eva. Your review left me teary-eyed. If I hadn’t already bought this after Nymeth’s review, I would have after reading yours. Beautiful review.

  4. June 20, 2009 3:19 pm

    This sounds wonderful, like just the kind of thing I look for in a fantasy book. Great characters that you care about and a story that feels real no matter how outlandish the situation. I’m off to check the library catalog right now.

  5. June 20, 2009 4:57 pm

    I read Nymeth’s review too and loved every word. Your review was wonderful and has helped nudge this book up to one that I will read over the summer!!

  6. June 20, 2009 7:10 pm

    Lanagan doesn’t torture her characters, or use sad events to manipulate the reader’s emotions.

    Yes, this is a biggie for me. I recently read a book I was disappointed with because there were no nuances only a play on the reader’s emotions. Others felt differently, but I won’t be dissuaded.

    Anyhoo, I saw this somewhere else and now having read your review, you know I’m going to pick it up.

  7. June 20, 2009 10:46 pm

    Out of the 26 (yes that’s 26!!) books I have from the library, 2 are Lanagan’s. This one and Black Juice. As God as my witness, I swear I will read them!! (sorry, been in a bitchy mood today, and have been channelling Scarlett all day!!)

  8. June 21, 2009 7:13 am

    I’m so glad you mentioned that the abuse and rape were not detailed and that they didn’t leave a depressing or morbid effect on the story. Can’t deal with manipulative emotional content. Especially glad that you mentioned your attachment to the characters because in order to truly love a book, I have to care about the characters. I’m adding this to the Once Upon a Time list, but don’t know that I’ll wait until next year to read it!

  9. June 21, 2009 3:29 pm

    Charley, it’s good! :)

    Aarti, I moved to WP back in October of 2007, and I really like it. The only issue I have is that the free version doesn’t allow you to play with the html. :( I’ll send you an e-mail!

    Debi, thank you. I was so nervous trying ot review this one!

    Teresa, I hope you love it as much as me!

    Staci, she writes the best reviews! :)

    Susan, I look forward to your review!

    Stephanie, I have 39 books out from the library right now!! But 12 of them are children’s books for my niece, so we’re just about equal. :) lol @ channelling Scarlett…sometimes she needs ot make an appearance!

    Jenclair, I definitely think you’d enjoy it!

  10. June 21, 2009 10:09 pm

    Between you and Nymeth, you’re both pushing this book higher on my TBR pile. I’m really going to try and read this book soon. You wrote a great review.

  11. June 22, 2009 7:52 pm

    I really need to read this. I have had it from the library twice and can’t seem to sit down with it!

  12. June 23, 2009 8:36 am

    I have this book on my nightstand at home, but I haven’t started it yet. I love the sound of this book. I originally got it for the OUAT challenge, but I have finally admitted to myself that I just can’t do the whole challenge thing. I’m just too much of a mood reader, and it makes it feel too much like work for me. I wish I could — they look like so much fun. I guess I’ll just have to enjoy the challenges through others’ posts.

  13. June 23, 2009 10:32 am

    Like I told you before, I’m thrilled that you loved it as much as I thought you would. And I loved your review.

  14. June 23, 2009 10:34 am

    Your review is so great! I got this book awhile back and read quite a good chunk of it – but then I made the mistake of setting it down on my mom’s coffee table! She had to read it – so now I’m waiting to get it back :)

  15. June 26, 2009 4:02 pm

    Vasilly, thank you! I think it would be right up your alley.

    Kailana, read it! :D

    Lisa, well I hope you’re in the mood for it soon. :) The nice thing about year-long challenges is that they’re much friendlier to mood readers, imo.

    Nymeth, thank you!

    Joanne, lol! My mom has done that to me too. But I do it back, so fair’s fair. :)


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