Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
|Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Stunning retelling of the Snow White and Rose Red fairy tale. It's ambitious and difficult with multi-layered prose that will work its way into your very soul and repay your effort a hundred times over.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 496||Date: July 2009|
|Publisher: David Fickling|
Liga's upbringing has not been a happy one. Her mother died young. Her father has sexually abused her and forced herbal concoctions on her in order to abort the resulting pregancies - except the last one. After his death, she was gang-raped by village boys and fell pregnant again. In her degradation and despair, she resolves to throw herself and her baby off a cliff. But the moon-babby takes pity upon her and spirits her away to an alternate reality in which people are kind and everything is safe. Here, she brings up her daughters - the pacific Branza and the fiery Urdda - in peace and harmony. It is, after all, her heart's desire.
But the safe world proves permeable. Perforated by witchcraft, it's first invaded first by a thieving dwarf - a littlee man to Branza and Urdda - and then by a kind boy transformed into a bear. After that comes a cruel boy transformed into a bear. And then Urdda discovers the way through too, such is her desire for a fuller, more adventurous life away from the stifling safety of her mother's heart's desire. Eventually, all three women must face reality again.
Wow. Gosh. Superlatives aplenty.
Tender Morsels is a stunning retelling of the Snow White and Rose Red fairy tale. It's ambitious and difficult with multi-layered prose that will work its way into your very soul. Like all good fairy tales, it confronts good and evil, and the look it takes at evil is both honest and remorseless. Lanagan talks about incest, rape, and betrayal - but she also looks at the redeeming power of love. Many people, and particularly many parents, don't like to look too closely at some of the darker taboos Lanagan explores in Tender Morsels but I applaud her. Violence against women isn't something to be kept from discussion, because if it is, how can we discuss moving on? And if we don't know what evil is, what can we mean when we say redeeming power of love?
It's not an easy book to read and many adolescents may find its slow pace very foreign. But it hooks you and draws you in. There's an emotional honesty in all the characters and Lanagan moves from viewpoint to viewpoint with consummate ease. The pre-industrial worlds she has created give the narrative a very traditional feel but the feelings it evokes are utterly timeless. The magic - as every good fairy tale understands - separates us enough to avoid too much pain, and enables us to think about the issues raised without fear.
Perhaps Tender Morsels is one for the ambitious reader, but that sounds too much like a criticism, and I don't want to make one. It's a challenging, creative work of art that will repay much more than the effort it takes to engage with it. In fact, I think Lanagan is even better than Angela Carter, and that's saying something.
My thanks to the good people at David Fickling for sending the book.
It's difficult to think of another young adult book that carries the same force. The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale is along the same lines, but much less dark and considerably more accessible. The Fatal Child by John Dickinson might also appeal. Otherwise, they should simply re-read Tender Morsels!
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