Title: Tender Morsels
Author: Margo Lanagan
Year Published: 2008
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult (?)
Tender Morsels is a disturbing book. Though the cartoonish covers and the YA categorisation may indicate otherwise, it is actually a very dark retelling of the folktale Snow White and Rose Red. To put it bluntly, the story involves rape, incest and bestiality. This is not to say that it's unsuitable for teen readers (abuse, after all, is not unique to adults) but rather that anyone who is not prepared to handle these topics should steer clear.
The main story begins with Liga, a thirteen year old girl who is psychologically and sexually abused by her father. Her ordeal is so heart-wrenching that you'll either put the book down or read faster to make sure that her life improves. In time, it does, and Liga escapes to a world where she is free to bring up her babies in safety. While you're happy for her at first, you know that things cannot last for her and her daughters – this new place is, after all, a fantasy.
There is no obvious plot as such; things just happen, much like in dreams or in life, and at times it is unclear where the story is going. Though some may find the pacing slow, I didn't mind it at all. The tension lies in whether and how Liga, Branza (Snow White) and Urrda (Rose Red) would come back to the real world, and this kept me interested throughout. Lanagan's writing is lovely; it has that dreamy, cosy quality perfect for the fairy-tale unreality of the world the three women inhabit.
The point of view jumps around, sometimes jarringly so, intersecting with the stories of other characters, namely the dwarf Dought, the witch Annie and the two Bears. While these threads were interesting, they were always secondary to the main story of Liga and her daughters, and I am unsure as to whether they just enrich the main story or whether they were insufficiently fleshed out as stories themselves.
I only took two or three days to finish this book, which for me is extremely fast. The main characters are likeable and you feel for them, and the reason I got through it so quickly was because I needed to make sure things got better for everyone, and (mild spoiler) they sort of do, which is just as well as the book would be too depressing otherwise.
Though there are light-hearted happy moments, the darker aspects of the narrative are never far from mind. This isn't one of those stories where the victim emerges triumphant, or where everything spirals into a melodramatic weep-fest. There is no easy fix for things, and indeed it is the realness of Liga's experience (and to a lesser extent, Branza's), with its attendant complexities, that makes the book such a painful and beautiful read. Difficult subject matter is handled sensitively and woven into the fabric of the story – thankfully, it is neither gratuitous nor used simply for shock value.
Tender Morsels left me emotionally drained long after its end. This book is undoubtedly good, but I can't say it was an enjoyable one.
Alex's Rating: 4.5/5