Monday, August 2, 2010

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Title: Tender Morsels
Author: Margo Lanagan
Genre: Fantasy
Target Audience: Mature teens and up (very disturbing scenes)
Number of Pages: Paperback - 464 pages

Tender Morsels is a dark and vivid story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them. Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, a world given to her in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters grow up in this soft place, protected from the violence 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?

Tender Morsels is a lurid yet beautiful tale. Written using the framework of Rose Red and Snow White, a classic fairytale that I recommend reading prior to Tender Morsels, this dark retelling will spellbind readers who are mature enough to handle the ghastliness.  The highly unusual yet extraordinary prose captures the darkness and brutality of the story:

"She pressed her nose and mouth into the crook of her elbow, but she had already gulped smoke. It sank through to her deepest insides, and there it clasped its thin black hands, all knuckles and nerves, and wrung them, and wrung them." - page 6

The author's words summon vivid imagery into my mind; I especially love the metaphor of smoke to hands. Those who adore poetry are sure to love this book's language and sentence structure. Due to the lyrical writing, the prologue is quite confusing, so I had to reread it a few times to completely understand it. (If you go back and reread it after you finish the book, it makes a lot more sense.) However, once that's out of the way, the first few pages depict grim scenes; they document Liga's hellish early life of miscarriages and sexual abuse from her own father, and I'm still horrified and disturbed. The author does a good job of skirting around the actual rape scenes and tends to describe the traumatic effects opposed to the action. Since Lanagan siphons sadness into readers using powerful language, some parts of this novel just made me want to weep:

"She had been all prepared to love it, but there was not very much to love. She had never seen a baby so thin and wizened. Its face was just creases, thick with down. It had the finest, darkest, sourest lips, disapproving anciently, godlikely, distantly. It had the look of a lamb born badly, of a baby bird fallen from the nest—that doomed look, holy and lifeless, swollen-eyed, retreated too far into itself to be awakened." - page 15

The characters are deep, realistic, and flawed, and all have their motivations. Urdda, the fiery younger sister, never hesitates in asking for the truth and basks in the spirit of adventure. Branza is more gentle, like her mother Liga, but just as realistic. The character of Bullock bothers me due to his blandness, and after a few weeks I am struggling to remember him. Liga, the abused mother of Urdda and Branza, is a scarred soul who still maintains a saucy vibe. Readers will respect and become fond of Liga, though not pity her.

Unlike many light hearted YA novels, Tender Morsels is a heavy, savage tale with prose that forces readers to proceed at a slow gait. Not for the weak of heart, this book requires a mature reader to handle the disturbing bits. I love how symbolism infuses this book; there are layers upon layers of it, some which I will only catch during a reread. Luscious with explorations of gender, innocence, and the contrast between brutality and beauty, this book requires a lot of thought and simulates many deep questions. At times, the identity of the narrator is confusing to the point of being incomprehensible. With the frequent changes from third to first person without warning, I was very lost, especially in the beginning. However, now I realize that Lanagan wrote it this way for a reason; even the difference between narrating the book between third person and first person has symbolism. According to an interview, Margo Lanagan purposely uses first person for the females and third person for the males, because she "wanted to make a subtle point about how the men are comfortable imagining themselves as the heroes of their own story, whereas the women always feel themselves to be part of a bigger story that is more significant than their own lives". This idea interweaves throughout the novel, and is only one form of symbolism that Lanagan includes.

Instead going out with a bang, this book ends with barely the faintest of blubbers. Though I won't unleash any spoilers, the ending is abrupt, and everybody ends up in the wrong places. Also, Branza still yearns for life in heaven, and many of her questions still lie unanswered, all because she does not want to press her mom for the answers. This goes against the message of what the book seems to say, which is sheltering the innocent from the harsh truth is a bad idea. However, the shaky ending does not detract from the novel as a whole. After I finished reading the book, I just sat there for a moment, slowly surfacing out of the rich, vivid world of t. This book is savory and hearty, like a bowl of soup, and will keep one's belly full of provoking thoughts and questions for the next few days, satisfying the appetites of even the most ravenous readers.


Hardcover: 2.5/5 - Though it captures the dark tone of the book, I'm not really a fan of this cover. It's creepy and relates to the plot, but it's just not for me. The placement of the title looks like it's beheading the bear.

Paperback: 4/5 -  I really adore this cover! It maintains mystery by depicting a lurking bear and an ominous forest, though achieves an almost playful tone with the two girls, and even still manages to look sinister.

Which cover do you guys like better?

4.5 hoots

Books like this:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Source: Random Buzzers Friday ARC giveaway. - Thanks!


  1. Awesome review! I like the Paperback cover a LOT better, and I agree, on the Hardcover, the title DOES look like it's beheading the bear, lol. :)

  2. WOW! It sounds like a book I'd read. SO AMAZING! Great review.

  3. Terrific review! Grim though it may be, I'm hooked and adding it to my TBR list :)

  4. Great review! The ending upsets me enough that, after reading this book and "Split" by Swati Avasthi, I stopped reading YA books for weeks.