November 16, 2012 by Heidi
Title: Tender Morsels [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Margo Lanagan [Website|Twitter]
Standing: Stand alone.
Genre: Young Adult, Retelling, Fantasy
Published: June 1st, 2009 by Brilliance Audio
Format: Audiobook; 14 hrs, 11 min; Read by Michael Page and Anne Flosnik
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, given to her by natural magic in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters, gentle Branza and curious Urdda, grow up in this soft world, protected from the violence, predation, and village prejudice that once harmed their mother. But the real world cannot be denied forever.
Magicked men and wild bears break down the borders of Liga’s refuge. Now, having known heaven, how will these three women survive in a world where beauty and brutality lie side by side? This is a tale of journeys and transformations. From girl to witch to woman. From boy to beast to man. From hell to heaven to . . . reality. Building her tale on a mythic scaffolding, Margo Lanagan asks timeless questions about what it is to be human. She explores the evil and the sweetness in the world and reveals the essential magic of learning to live with both.
Chosen as a 2009 Michael L. Printz honor book
I fell utterly in love this year with Margo Lanagan’s most recent book, The Brides of Rollrock Island, and since then have been wanting to try some of her older work. I was aware after reading a number of reviews that Brides was easily considered her most accessible work. I knew going in that Tender Morsels was going to be dark, jarring, and possibly hard to stomach. It was all of these things, but it was also rich with observations about the human condition, our ability to hurt, and our ability to heal. The fact that there are those who will never redeem themselves, and others who will never compromise who they are.
Tender Morsels is, at its core, a retelling of the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. It has been awarded a Printz honor, is categorized as YA, and yet, I have to admit I would be extremely hesitant to put this in the hands of any but the most mature teens. Tender Morsels involves gang rape, incest, and bestiality. These facets are not alluded to or glossed over for the reader to deduce, they are described in a harsh and blatant manner that is intended to twist any reader’s stomach with feelings of rage and despair at the unjust world. Tender Morsels is never a comfortable book–a reader should not go in looking for a charmingly dark fairy tale retelling, they should go in expecting to be slapped in the face with the harsh realities of human nature and an exploration of our animal tendencies.
Tender Morsels is a story told through points of view that flow freely from character to character. I believe there were in total seven points of view including Liga and her daughters (our Snow White and Rose Red equivalents), along with the four men who travel in some form between the known world and Liga’s heaven. The utilization of various character’s viewpoints is something Lanagan excels at. Because she is unafraid to present the earnest mentality of each character, it becomes difficult at times to distinguish between who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. Who is the victim, who is taking advantage, and who is merely going after their goals. I adore her fearlessness when it comes to making readers feel for characters we want so ardently to despise. She also most brilliantly backs off of these perspectives when we come to a point in the book where we know this character can no longer hold even our mildest sympathies.
Through Tender Morsels, Lanagan has also proven to me that she is adept at utilizing another of my favorite story telling elements–setting as character. I loved Rollrock Island in Brides, but I’ve also started to think that islands are easy to personify. Here Lanagan proves her ability to weave character into setting by creating a juxtoposition between the personalities of the village in the real world, and the same village in Liga’s Heaven. In Liga’s Heaven, all unniceties are removed. All those Liga felt intimidated by, or fearful of, all those who at some point caused her pain are gone. However, this also sucked the intense joys and kindliness out of the village. The village of Liga’s Heaven becomes but a shadow to that of the real world, which is much more boisterous and bursting with personalities both rough and wonderful.
The audio narration for Tender Morsels was very well done, with the male PoV chapters being narrated by Michael Page, and the female by Anne Flosnik. I enjoyed their accents, and their story telling abilities, and I’ll honestly admit that being captive to some of the more horrendous scenes on audio was perhaps less painful than if I had been reading. It kept me from being able to skip anything, and yet it gave my mind the ability to split itself and focus on whatever task was at hand while listening. I do recommend the audio, but not so enthusiastically that I would insist it were an improvement on the book itself.
Tender Morsels is a complex and heart wrenching look at humanity. There is no message that good things happen to good people, or that the bad will always get their comeuppance. No, it is merely a reflection of reality. There are those who will always be victims, others who look always to take advantage, and those who will lead very good and fortunate lives. It shows the value of hard work and determination, but also the reality that those blessings we receive in life do not always look quite like the ones we would have chosen. The world is unfair, and while Tender Morsels is an achingly difficult book to read, it is also a true one–and that is something I very much appreciate.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: I’m really interested to see how Margo Lanagan’s short stories compare to her full length novels–if she still works with the same themes, and what kind of depth she is able to get in a small page count. I’ll probably be looking to read either Red Spikes or Black Juice next.
Recommended for: This is one of those books that is really hard to judge who would and would not like it due to the intensity of many scenes. Heck, I’m not sure I can really say I liked it. I loved elements that Lanagan used, and I appreciate what the book did and how it made me think, but did I like it? Not really, but it’s a good book. If you feel you may be able to stomach the harsh elements mentioned, I do urge you to give this one a shot. It won’t be easy or fun, but it will give you something new.
Get a second opinion:
The Reclusive Reader – “Only those that can appreciate beauty in contrast to feeling extreme discomfort, stomach reading about carnal, gross acts, and at times, witnessing devastating scenes, do I tentatively recommend this book to.”
The Book Smugglers – “The book is unquestionably powerful and well-written, but certain facets of the story left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.”
Tatiana (from The Readventurer) on Goodreads – “I personally found Tender Morsels a memorable book, the type of read that lingers in the back of your mind for a long time. But can I wholeheartedly recommend it to a teenager or even an adult? I am not sure…”
I’ve also reviewed:
The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
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Category Adult, Audiobook, Review, Young Adult | Tags: adult, Aussie reads, bestiality, Brilliance Audio, crossover appeal, fantasy, incest, rape, retelling, setting as character, Snow White and Rose Red, young adult