Saturday, April 3, 2010

Book Review: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

image from here

This will be my first review for the Once Upon a Time IV Challenge, and what a beautiful book to begin with! I have always been a wee bit cautious when faced with a 'fantasy' book, well lets be honest here, frankly terrified!! My brother is an avid fantasy reader and can often be found battling with a book that weighs more than he does and his endless refrains of "Don't worry! It's easy! It's the second book of the 4th trilogy, you read it before the 6th book in the prequel series but the events in it don't actually occur until after the 6th trilogy. Oh yeah, and all the characters are called Saraman." follow me as I run away in terror. And that is why I have never read 'Lord of the Rings'. So where does 'Tender Morsels' actually fit? To preserve my own sense of morals, I am placing it in the 'fairy tale' category, which is frankly a synonym meaning 'fantasy for chickens'.

Tender Morsels is a retelling of the tale of Snow White and Rose Red, a German fairytale. It tells the story of Liga, a broken young woman who disappears from her sad and difficult life into a world far more beautiful, her own perfect heaven. With her she takes her daughter Branza, and a second unborn daughter Urdda. In this world they live peacefully with no threat of danger, poverty or heartbreak. However this magic and perfect happiness cannot last forever and before long, the divide between the real world and Liga's world begins to break down.

It is not only Liga that has made the transition to this world; a kind young man finds himself within this world in the body of a bear and seeks warmth and kindness from the family. An uncouth, beastly dwarf makes several visits searching for riches he cannot attain at home; and another man/bear appears, though not as placid or kind as the first. As the children grow, their encounters with these foreigners lead their paths in separate directions and force them to realise there may be more to life than they know.

This book is beautifully written, exquisitely beautifully written in fact, Margo Lanagan WHO ARE YOU?? The description in this book is vivid, everything just grows inside your head until you feel as though you're there, and that is a rare thing in a book. One thing that Ms Lanagan does which just gives me a hundred goosebumps, is describe the smaller things, the things that don't really matter, that the book doesn't need to fulfill the story, yet makes the reading experience so pleasurable that you wish it was Margo Lanagan who was writing your life! One such passage is when Branza and Urdda are feeding some birds:
The air began to fill with the light, dusty sound of their wings, and the pips and peeps of their calls. They landed and landed, and Urdda's arms rocked at each landing. The birds were bright in the sun, and the busyness of them flaunted and flapped the sunlight so that Urdda felt radiant with them, as if they were a kind of fire flaming across the top of her. What a grand idea this was! 
She stood straight and still, not frightening a single bird away, and Branza, hands clasped, watched her from the wood-edge until the birds had pecked up all the crumbs from Urdda's person, and all the spilled crumbs and and pieces from the grass around her feet, and one by one had flown off, leaving widening breaks in the flaring line of sunlight. Two sparrows must sit and preen awhile once they had fed, but when they were done they, too, darted away, and then Branza ran out of the trees in delight and satisfaction, waving the other bread-end. "Now me!" she said. "That was quite wonderful!"
Whilst I loved every word within this book, I found the story at times unnerving and difficult to follow. It dealt with issues such as abuse (physical, sexual and emotional) and incest in graphic detail and is certainly not for the faint of heart. It is marketed as a young adult book, however I don't think I personally would have enjoyed this book at that time of my life, and at the same time I know several grown up adults who would love this.

I was initially confused with the switching between worlds and times, and the narrative also switches between first and third person with regularity, and the first person sections have different narrators as well. I found this confusing at times and it took me a while to get used to this style. However I think this is also a very positive aspect of this book as it allows the reader to have perspective of both worlds and what goes on within each.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. The writing often moved me to tears, but the story wasn't my favourite. I think this is really just because I'm new to fantasy/fairytale beyond His Dark Materials and Harry Potter. In saying that, I think this is such a valuable piece of writing, especially as it is written by an Australian author. And if you love anything fantastical and magical you will love this. And Margo Lanagan is a storytelling genius. Full stop. No argument. The end.
Imagine, always to have this arm at your waist, the arm of a good man and kind, who had been to your heaven and loved it too; who had seen your daughters in their childhoods there and begun wanting daughters himself.

Other Reviews
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Anonymous said...

Yes! I agree with you almost completely. I've heard her short stories are pretty fabulous as well, but I've yet to dive into those. Great review and don't be afraid of fantasy! It's a lovely genre ;)

Aimee said...

Oh I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I'm thinking of going out and actually *buying* Pullman's new one...what about you?


Elise said...

I have also not read any of her short stories, but am now planning to, she is awesome!!

Aimee, "buy" is a very strong word, I will probably do my typical borrow it from the library then go and buy it. Very inefficient!!

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

I loved this story too.
Welcome to the blogosphere... with this blog at least. :)

Nymeth said...

This is my favourite book of oh, the past ten years easily. Here's my embarrassingly gushy review :P I'm very glad to hear you liked it! Also, don't be afraid of fantasy - not all of it is horribly confusing :P This is a great introduction to what the genre has to offer, actually, and there's more brilliance where it came from. Btw, if you're looking for another fantasy author who writes beautiful and thoughtful books, I highly recommend Kij Johnson.

Elise said...

Thank you Shellie! And Nymeth I've linked to your fabulous review, and being overly gushy is a must with some things!! I'll be sure to check out Kij Johnson.

Anonymous said...

I am just doing a weekly catch up and just had to say great reviw, this is one that is very definitely going on the wish list.