Review: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

“You are pure-hearted and lovely, and you have never done a moment’s wrong. But you are a living creature, born to make a real life, however it cracks your heart.” – Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan

I read Tender Morsels in the beginning of the month, as part of the R.I.P. challenge this year. I have been trying to write about it ever since, but I never could seem to do it any justice. I’ve read great reviews of it, as well as reviews that made me wonder if the reviewer had even read the book, and I really don’t know what I have to say that haven’t been said. After waiting so long that I no longer feel completely overwhelmed, though, I decided that it doesn’t matter if I had anything new to say at all, as long as I had something to say.

Tender Morsels was, for me, so unbearably beautiful and painful at the same time. It is very loosely based on the Grimm Brothers’ “Snow White and Rose Red”, but it is a much darker tale. Liga, a young girl from a village, had been sexually abused by her father ever since her mother’s death. She went through several pregnancies and miscarriages (induced by her father, who buys herbs from the village “witch”), not really realizing what was happening to her. When she finally does realize what was going on, she hid her pregnancy from her father, deciding to give birth. Before she was due, her father died, and Liga later gave birth to Branza, a daughter. When a boy from the village heard that she was living alone, he and his friends went to her house and gang-raped her. Liga became pregnant with another daughter, Urdda. Not able to bear with her circumstances much longer, Liga considers suicide, but was taken into another world instead. The other world, referred to as her Heart’s Desire, was a place that was exactly like the village she lived in, with one main difference – everyone and everything was nice to Liga and her two children. There was no violence, only peace. Liga learned a trade to earn money, and raised her children in what was to her an ideal world.

There are moments in the book that are very heartbreaking and hard to read, and there are beautiful, tender moments as well. Most of the time I find myself disappearing in Lanagan’s prose. Her characters are wonderfully complex, as are their interactions and how they relate to each other. They are so real, which makes me wonder about people like Jocelyn in The Jane Austen Book Club (the movie, as the last time I read the book was ages ago and I’m not sure I could accurately quote it) who said, when confronted about not reading the Ursula Le Guin books she was given, that “I like to read books about real people.” The people in Tender Morsels are very real, and I am especially moved by the relationship between Branza and Urdda, the two sisters. In a way, they remind me of my own relationship with my sister, which I’ve described as something I could never describe and I can’t imagine living without.

Despite the mature themes in this novel, the rape and the violence isn’t really very explicit. Lanagan’s language itself is gentle for the most part, and so full of tenderness, but is full of a kind of quiet pain at the same time. It’s like that feeling when you love someone so much, you want to keep them away from danger and keep them safe, but you know that you had to let go all the same. The “real world” depicted in this novel seems at first too violent and dangerous a place, that it isn’t any wonder that Liga would want to hide away from it forever, but at the same time it is only amidst these terrible things that true beauty could be found. It is only by braving through the difficult things that we might win a chance at being truly happy.

While this is very possibly the best book I’ve read this year, I hesitate to recommend it because I doubt that everyone would love it as much as I did. I know at least one person who would probably be driven into a book burning frenzy if she read this. But if your taste is similar to mine, and/or if you love bittersweet fairy tales that taste like the richest, darkest chocolate melting in your mouth*, then give Tender Morsels a try.

* I have an overabundance of chocolate in my house lately, which makes me think of chocolate almost all the time.

~ originally posted on blogspot


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