Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

tender morselsTender Morsels is a book I picked up for many reasons. I first knew about it from Nymeth, whose passionate review seems to gather some sort of a cult. There was probably a time when people responded with a blank look “Tender Morsel who?”, but that time has long gone now! The novel won World Fantasy Award in 2009, in the same year that Shaun Tan won the Artist category. With high Australian spirit, I shouted yay, and looked forward to the collaboration of Margo Lanagan and Shaun Tan to be published in February 2010 by Allen & Unwin (as pictured). Lucky for me, I was sent a copy by someone from the Australian publisher. On top of that, Claire and her non-structured book group is reading this book for end of May discussion. Oh and did I tell you that Margo Lanagan lives in Sydney, the same city I live in now? All those finally pushed the book up my pile. And here’s what I think.

Tender Morsels started from a rough point. Liga is a teenage girl who is sexually abused by her father after the death of her mother. After a couple of forced abortions, she is determined to keep the last one. Coincidentally her father dies before he gets to kill her last unborn baby. Her peace lasts very short while before another unfortunate, evil event befalls her once more, which pushes her to the end of hopelessness. Magical things happen. Liga is transferred to a place of her heart’s desire where people are always nice and safe, and that’s where she raises her two daughters, Branza and Urdda.

There are some obvious dark themes, and while it is never explicit, the incest and the rapes were very hard to read. Here’s where I think Margo Lanagan shows her skills. She is very good at writing around something without actually saying the words. The book is very well written, though I did have problem with the dialect style at times.

Tender Morsels has received so many raving over-the-top reviews from the book blogging community, so I feel a bit out of the loop to say that it didn’t blow me away as much as I expected. I thought it was skilfully written and it flowed nicely from beginning to end, BUT I felt very little connection with any of the characters. Liga’s parts are told with third-person point of view, while the bears are told with first person. I never understood why and it just bothered me. In my view Liga was the main character and her stories with her daughters were the most interesting. I was annoyed with the change of perspectives to the bears, who I thought were less interesting less important characters. I just couldn’t shake my annoyance off for the entire book for some reason. The third-person view of Liga made her felt very distant.

Lanagan Margo[Minor spoilers ahead] I also had some qualms about how the story turned at certain points. For one, I’m not sure if this is the book to read for how it deals with rape. Getting sent to one’s heaven is so far from being realistic, and I’m not talking about the magical aspect of it. Who in the real world would ever be able to conveniently run away from everything and come back to successfully take revenge? Isn’t that a misleading illusion to how the real world works? It felt a bit self-indulgent. I don’t mind magical world and humans transforming to bears, but the way the problems get resolved kept reminding me that this was a work of fiction, so I was unable to be completely immersed in it. The problems were too serious and realistic for a fantasy, yet the resolutions were too unrealistic. The balance just wasn’t right for me to be believable.

Having said all these, I think Tender Morsels is great as fantasy or adventure book. I loved how it ended for Liga, which wasn’t exactly happy-ever-after so it had that realistic edge. The book has a couple of fantastic female characters who I loved dearly. I realized that I got a bit critical over this book, perhaps I entered it expecting… something else.

4 stars
2008, 380 pp

The basis of the bear ritual: Fete de l’Ours

First line
There are plenty would call her a slut for it.

2009 World Fantasy Award (Novel)
2009 Honor Book: Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature

Aussie Author (book #3), Once Upon a Time IV (book #4), Book Awards IV (book #10), Women Unbound (fiction #8)

Also reviewed by

Loved it unconditionally!
things mean a lot
| my fluttering heart | A Striped Armchair | Stuff As Dreams Are Made On | The Zen Leaf | YA Fabulous! | Sarah Miller

Liked it with some reservations (like me). Regular Rumination | Farm Lane Books Blog | Dolce Bellezza

Thought it too flawed. Nonsuch Book

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28 thoughts on “Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan”

  1. Just bookmarked this review to come back and read after I finish it this week. Our non-structured reading group is going to weigh in on this one next Friday. Stop by the conversation? I’ll be back soon.

    1. Sakura, yes it is dark, but I knew it was going to be, so I was prepared. It might be shocking for people who go into it expecting some light fairy-tale like atmosphere though. But yea the old fairy tales are usually dark, so I don’t understand why it has to be so watered down these days. Even cartoons have been tamed so much compared to a decade ago.

      Lol I understand about the planning ahead. I actually planned to read this book last year, so there you go, I just planned it earlier than you ;)

    1. Jackie, yes as much as I wanted to be immersed in the world and believe it, I couldn’t. Hope I expressed my reasoning well enough. I thought long and hard about it.

    1. vivienne, I understand that you need to be in certain mood to read this. I would recommend it to people with caution, because I don’t think it’s for everybody. But the majority of book bloggers loved it so much, so there’s a good chance that you will too!

  2. I know Ana loved this book, but I just don’t know if I can read it with those kinds of themes so prevalent. Not that I shy away from difficult subjects, but that it is physically hard for me to READ them happening.
    .-= [Aarti´s last blog: Review: A Man Lay Dead] =-.

    1. Aarti, if it makes any difference, the difficult parts to read are mainly in the beginning only. I guess you just need to find a time when you are prepared for it. It’s worth a try.

  3. We share many of the same views here but I am glad to see that you came out enjoying it a bit more at the end. Loved the writing but was so put off by other elements, not necessarily the incest, rape, sodomy and bestiality either. Adult book? Kid’s book? It could have been so much more if she had veered to the adult side.

    1. Frances, I agree. The thing is, this whole YA thing is very confusing. What does it mean exactly? What’s the age range of the target? It’s a confused genre and I think everybody is unsure, including the author. I tried to see pass the YA label but it was hard not to. For me it rather lacked in depth as an adult book, so YA seems to be appropriate. But then all the sexual elements are too conflicting for me to recommend the book to any kids (young adults?).

  4. “Liked it with some reservations” is where I’d fall. I thought her vocabulary was atmospheric, the way that she created words with a bit of a medieval feel…I was interested in how she veered around distressing topics such as rape and bestiality with a vagueness that almost let you make up your own mind. But, as Frances mentions, that this is for Young Adults seemed hugely inappropriate to me. These are topics that many adults don’t want to read about or can’t fully grasp.
    .-= [Bellezza´s last blog: Tender Morsels] =-.

    1. Bellezza, like I mentioned to Frances above, the whole YA label thing is very confusing. But YA or adult, the book has conflicting elements that made it hard to categorize as one or another. I agree with the positive points you mentioned above. All the sexual elements are quite vague and rarely explicit. Not many authors are brave enough to try to deal with such topics, so I commend her for it.

  5. Di, loved what you said here: “Who in the real world would ever be able to conveniently run away from everything and come back to successfully take revenge? Isn’t that a misleading illusion to how the real world works?” I know this is meant to be fantasy but seeing as how it’s marketed as YA, young readers learn to deal with real-life struggles from the books they read. Clean slates and all.

    I love fantasy, love fairy tales, love Snow White and Rose Red, but like we already talked about, so odd that I found the writing most unappealing, of all the elements in the book.

    1. claire, so now you know my main problem with the book (apart from the dialect, yes I had problem with that too). I tried to analyze why there were so many elements that didn’t sit quite right with me. This is the best I could come up with :).

  6. I actually had this on my list for the Book Awards Challenge and I just couldn’t do it. I could not get past the incest right from the get-go and was actually a bit worried that some day I’ll receive a challenge about it at my library! And the dialect got annoying quick. I think maybe this should be adult fantasy instead of YA – I probably would have stuck with it longer if I hadn’t been picturing a 14-year-old reading it.

    1. Tiny Librarian, thanks for first time commenting! Many people could not get pass the incest part and the dialect, so you’re not alone in this. I’m kinda sitting on the fence for this book. I haven’t read many YA at all to compare, but it seems that many people have problem with this being a YA book. In my opinion it really depends on the maturity of the kids.

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