Thursday, 3 September 2009
Synopsis (taken from allenandunwin.com)
Tender Morsels is a dark and vivid story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them. It is a gloriously told tale of journeys and transformations, penetrating the boundaries between male and female, reality and myth, conscious and unconscious, temporal and spiritual, human and beast.
Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, given to her by natural magic and in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters, gentle Branza and curious Urdda, grow up in this harmonious world, protected from the violence and village prejudice that once made their mother's life unendurable.
But the real world cannot be denied forever, and gradually the borders break down between Liga's refuge and the place from which she escaped. Having known heaven, how will Liga and her daughters survive back in the world where beauty cannot be separated from cruelty? How far can you take your fantasies before they grow dangerous? How fully can you protect your children, and how completely should you?
I finished reading Tender Morsels last night and have been pondering as to whether or not I liked it. It has left me in a quandry as I'm simply unable to give a definitive answer. On many levels it works, on some I found it hard work and unsatisfying. Of course, it goes without saying that reading a novel, appreciating artwork, enjoying a film, it's all subjective, we all have different tastes but I decided that for the mere fact that Tender Morsels has left me dwelling on it, questioning aspects of it, then surely that is a mark of success.
The novel is based on the Grimm fairytale of Snow White and Rose Red and is certainly not for the easily offended or shocked, and there has been much discussion about the subject matter; is it suitable for teens?
I for one have no issue with the issues of incest, gang rape being covered as it is done with a heart-breaking subtlety and is certainly not gratuitous in any manner. The internal struggle in Liga is sensitively portrayed and seen through her innocent eyes, we understand and sympathise with her questioning of whether or not she is to blame for her father's actions, her naivety and ignorance brought about by her seclusion only adds to her confusion. And when taken in context of the narrative, a fantasy tale in an unspecified time and place, I feel it makes it more abstract for the reader, we can distance ourselves when reading about such disturbing and upsetting events but still we can empathise.
There is no doubting that Margo Lanagan is a formidable writer. Her prose is rich and powerful and is a character in its own right. I would highly recommend this book for any aspiring writer who wishes to have a masterclass in speech and prose that grounds you in a world so completely you feel as if you are there. For me it brought to mind a rich tapestry of dark intensity and colour, of dirt and coarseness, ugliness and beauty woven together in intricate detail.
Although, one issue I did have was the jumping from viewpoints. Occasionally it left me confused and I would have like something more to differentiate between the characters.
I felt very moved by the ending of the novel. Without giving it away, I felt Liga's sadness and yes, although it certainly didn't make for the fairytale, all loose ends tied up, ending for Liga, I felt it ended as it should. Again I have read some reviewers dislike of the ending, how it was too depressing, how Liga should have had her fairytale ending but perhaps we should take consolation that Liga did find herself, she learnt how to deal with the events of the past, she found herself a new life in the world she had escaped from, she learned how to interact with real people - is that not positive? She took possession of her own life, her feelings, she started to see a future and I believe that she would only get stronger from that point on. A bittersweet ending but perhaps that is a true reflection of life.
So do I recommend this book? Yes I do, because on an intellectual level it tackles powerful themes and is a masterclass in wonderful prose, and Margo Lanagan must be commended for her bravery in tackling such subject matter.
On an emotional level do I feel I fully engaged? No, not entirely. With Liga, yes, but perhaps less so with her daughters, Branza and Urdda.
This is a book to savour and be repelled by. A book to love and hate. But certainly not a book to be dismissed.
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