Tender Morsels (thoughts)
Today 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?!
I 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.