Tender 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.
[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.
2008, 380 pp
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
Also reviewed by
Thought it too flawed. Nonsuch Book