Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

tender morsels This is a real Marmite book… it seems, you either love it or hate it!  I would like to explore why that might be and try to get to the bottom of why there is such a divide.

The subject matter could be a sticking point for some readers.  The blurb goes like this…

Fifteen-year-old Liga, emotionally and physically battered from bearing two children, one begot through incest, the other through rape, is magically granted her own heaven, a gentle patient version of the rough world she once knew.  Here there are no brutal fathers, no leering village boys; there is only a beautiful little cottage in the middle of a wood.  Here she brings up her two daughters, fair Branza and dark Urdda, in perfect peace.  But the membrane between Liga’s heaven and the real world has grown thin over the years, allowing some who are not as pure-hearted as Liga and her daughters to enter.  And likewise, the girls discover they can pass through into the real world of Liga’s tortured past.

Now, a book for teens with such a sensitive subject matter could be a sticking point for some readers and for their parents.  Anyone approaching Tender Morsels without prior knowledge might think it was a bit heavy or depressing or even nasty.  But they’d be wrong.  There are a few moments where things skirt close to all of these but overall this is handled so sensitively and with such huge emotion that it sweeps you up and focuses you on Liga’s inner turmoil rather than dwelling on her actual experience.  And this is a theme throughout Tender Morsels. There is emotion etched into every page which gave me more of a psychological experience than any book has for a very long time. I think people call it, being touched, but I would say this book does a whole lot more – it makes you see things differently.

I always like to comment on the writing and for me, Tender Morsels is in a class of its own.  I think this may be one of the reasons some people aren’t so keen on it.  It’s both lyrical and filled with stunning imagery and I think some teens especially may find some of it inaccessible.   However, if they stuck with it for a while they would see that the way this book is written has a very distinct function.  The story is based on the Grimm’s fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red and the writing matches perfectly to that age old spinning of tales round the fire.  It takes you deeper into the story rather than pushing you away.  I had to stop marking my favourite parts because there was pretty much nothing left over.  So here’s a passage to give you a taster…

‘Joseph!’ she whispered in fright. ‘Master Lathe!’

And his eyes were all kindness again. ‘Miss?’ he said.

‘My name is Liga,’ she said.

‘Yes.’ His hand lay warm in hers.  It seemed to Liga that he looked upon her much as he had been looking at the bowl as it came into being against the lathe.

‘What was that?’ She was hot with fear. ‘What happened to you just now?  To your eyes?’

‘You asked too much of me, Liga.’ He lowered his eyes, but she had seen the sky rushing in them again. ‘I was not made for it.’

‘For what?’ She hardly wanted to ask.

‘To… to feel anything for myself.  Lonely or no.’

Liga was stiff with terror.  The wind, the frost,and worst of all the vast emptiness she had seen behind his eyes translated itself into his voice.  If she could see them now, they would be blank as the moon.  But he had just used her name, Liga. He had known her better than Joseph the Lathe ought to, better then Ada Keller or Wife Taylor or anyone in the town or country did, better maybe even than she knew herself.  To her very depths, with all her secrets, she was known by everyone here, by everything.

Joseph kept his gaze of their hands , but the light form his eyes stuttered in her lap. The world was flimsy around her; it rippled like embroidery on a curtain, and beyond the curtain was chaos, and a light that might blind her.

Tender Morsels is a book to be savoured, to be appreciated and to become lost in.  It almost seems like a Classic in the best sense of the word… as though it was written longhand with a quill by the golden glow of candlelight.  While reading you get the impression that this book was written to stand the test of time, like a piece of fine furniture or intricately painted masterpiece.

By now, you’ll be well aware that I’m in the love-it camp!  Although I do understand that there may be certain aspects of Tender Morsels that some people find less appealing, for anyone sitting on the fence out there, wondering which camp they would join I would advise you to read it and decide for yourself.  If you don’t you may well be missing one of reading’s greatest experiences.

About Eve Harvey

Eve Harvey is a bookaholic. She is forever to be found with her nose in a book. If there are none around then newspapers, magazines, the back of cereal packets, road signs or the tiny washing labels found on the seams of jumpers will do. Eve has a full time job as a children's bookseller. She was, in fact, the very first Waterstone's Children's Expert Bookseller in Scotland. Her first love then really has to be literature for children and teens, although she has been known to read grown-up books (not very often though - they didn't put in enough hours when they invented days). She especially loves to find brand new authors and is always on the lookout for a stunning début... Eve lives in a field just outside Edinburgh in Scotland with her daughter and son and two dogs and two rabbits. She also has some tanks of tropical fish and vows one day to start up a marine aquarium. And the day she signs her very first publishing deal she is going to celebrate by buying a pair of Horsefields tortoises. You can find Eve through her Agent, Ella Kahn at DKW Literary Agency. She's also on Twitter or on her website : EveHarvey.com

5 comments on “Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

  1. Jackie
    June 27, 2009

    Having never heard of this book before, I was looking forward to the review, which seemingly wove a spell as strong as the book itself, with lines such as “as though it was written longhand with a quill by the golden glow of candlelight.” The subject matter is quite serious, but appears to be handled in an unusual way, with the storybook overlay. I bet a lot of American suburbanite parents would have a fit if they knew their kids were reading this.
    The cover art is very powerful & somewhat mysterious. It’s stylized & the muted colors give it a woodsy mood. It sounds like a troubling, yet interesting book.

  2. Trilby
    June 29, 2009

    Sounds fascinating – I’ll definitely be looking this one up. Thanks, Eve!

  3. Lizzy
    July 5, 2009

    Margo Lanagan is an Aussie, so “Tender Morsels” should be described as a Vegemite (rather than a Marmite) book! I love her writing – I was especially bowled over by her short story collection “Black Juice” (2004). These stories are breathtaking – rich, intense, compelling, deeply disturbing.

  4. FlossieT
    July 10, 2009

    I’ve got a copy of this coming in the post but was beginning to lose my nerve a bit after a couple of storm-in-a-teacup articles (*cough* Daily Mail and its ilk) – thanks for a great review!

  5. Pingback: Margo Lanagan – Tender Morsels « Fyrefly's Book Blog

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This entry was posted on June 27, 2009 by in Entries by Eve, Fiction: young adult.

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Acknowledgment

  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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