Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Tender Morsels

Margo Lanagan

SUMMARY: Liga has undergone cruelty and tragedy nearly beyond imagination during her fifteen years on earth. When she wanders into the forest in complete desperation and despair, Liga is transported by natural magic into a separate world—a world built of her heart’s desire. So Liga raises her daughters Branza and Urdda in her personal heaven, a world free of the unkindness and violence Liga has experienced. However, their heavenly world is not impenetrable; greedy intruders and strange bears break into their gentle haven. Urdda’s curiosity causes her to push at the boundaries of their idyllic life while Branza’s growth into womanhood is disturbed by these unpleasant other worldly encounters. Meanwhile, even Liga herself begins to feel an occasional loneliness within her heaven. When these women find themselves tumbling out of this heavenly world and back into the imperfect reality of Liga’s nightmares, they must learn to survive in the real world, where horror and beauty might lie side by side.

ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS: I heard a great deal about this book over the last year and after having it on my ‘to read’ list for a few months, I finally got a chance to read it. My reactions were somewhat mixed but to be totally honest, that could be due to the haphazard way in which I read it. I read it during the first week of my very hectic summer job as a counselor/librarian at an ESL summer camp run at an independent high school. The first week was especially crazy so I would squeeze some reading in before bed and my sleepiness would occasionally result in confusion. So after that likely too full disclosure, I will try to sum up my reactions to Tender Morsels.

Based in the Grimm fairy-tale “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” Tender Morsels attempts to flesh out and complicate this original story with vividly lush and dark details. In the true spirit of the Brothers Grimm, Lanagan has chosen to use her story to explore the shadowy sides of human nature and the way in which cruelty can fit so closely alongside beauty in the human world. In total, I found this book to be a lovely and thoughtful narrative that managed to deal with some sensitive issues and harsh realities with skill.

Lanagan manages use the fairy-tale setting to address issues that remain current. She frankly but sensitively portrays incest, sexual and physical abuse, and gang rape within the first few chapters alone. Liga is well-drawn character; her reactions to her father’s long-term abuse and the attack by the town boys are as complex and confused as any expressed in an actual survivor’s memoir. Lanagan has not attempted to analyze Liga but rather has recorded her emotional and mental progress with precision and poignancy.

The shifting of narrators is gently done; occasionally it is so subtle as to be confusing (at least to my sleep-deprived mind!). I also found Liga’s transportation into her ‘heaven’ quite confusing the first time I read it but then that I can credit to the character’s own confusion and lack of understanding. However, I also felt that some character introductions were a bit too sudden; the greedy ‘wee-man’ who is magicked into their haven, for example, jumped into the narrative and his interests and role remained unclear to me for several sections of the piece.

Above all, however, I found this book to be very powerful. The events portrayed can be quite violent, disturbing, and brutal and although the book retains a sense of hope throughout, it is definitely a dark book that deals frankly with some very difficult subjects. However, Lanagan’s writing is lovely and the piece possesses a haunting clarity of the emotional aspects of interactions and scenes. She manages to recreate a variety of viewpoints, both male and female, with equal authenticity. Although this novel would be qualified as fantasy, the issues and emotions it represents directly speak to humans all over the world today.


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