Review: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
Title: Tender Morsels
Author: Lanagan, Margo
Length: 436 pages
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher / Year: Knopf / 2008
Why I Read It: I had heard too much about it, and too many bloggers I love and trust recommended it.
Date Read: 21/11/12
Rape, abuse, incest, and other traumas – these are things that young adults deal with, but they are also topics that we rarely discuss with them. Think of the statistics: 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted, 44% will be under 18, and of those, 93% knew their attacker. In reading, we all want to see ourselves and learn about life, about ourselves, and about how to cope. Sexual assault is a huge area around which we are largely silent, especially in our literature for teens. In this book, Lanagan has taken on these topics and explored themes surrounding sexual assault, helping to fill an important gap.
Liga, like many young victims, doesn’t understand what is happening to her, and only later comes to realize what exactly her father was doing and what it means. Her understanding grows, and along with it, her knowledge that she will also bear the shame and disgust of the villagers. The second assault examines the way that others often respond to and treat victims of abuse. When she tries to end her life, she instead has a magical encounter that allows her to escape. The result of this is two young children, Branza and Urdda, and, we come to find, a safe place.
For many who are assaulted (most?) there are stages that must be worked through. At various times, there are dreams of revenge, at others, the only thought possible is to escape. Using fantasy, Lanagan has explored these ideas. The dream of escape comes first. Rather than ending her life, Liga is taken to a magical world where she is safe. The villagers are kind and caring rather than harsh and judgemental, her children are safe, and she can slowly learn to cope with what has happened to her.
Through this ‘safe space’ fantasy, Lanagan is able to show Liga’s slow healing, and how slow it actually is. It gives a way to work through the escape desire and show the benefits as well as the flaws. Liga is safe, but she is also lonely. And despite being safe, she still has the memories and associated triggers affecting her that keep her on edge. The impossibility of true escape and safety is highlighted, as well as the myriad dangers surrounding isolation and a lack of knowledge of how to act and the needs of protection.
With the eventual return, Liga eventually tells Urda, the younger daughter, some of the events of her life. This leads to the revenge fantasy. In this part, Lanagan uses the fantastical element of the story line to have cut out men assault Liga’s assaulters, getting ‘revenge’ for their original acts. Here we see how empty revenge truly is. Neither Urdda nor Ligga get anything from this, they are still in the same position they were before, with the same feelings, though now Urdda also feels some measure of guilt.
The language that Lanagan uses was just off in dialect, which forced extra concentration and closer reading, ensuring that each point was delivered. The book was truly fantastic, and it tore me apart reading it. The Feminist Texican summed it up best when she called it “emotionally exhausting, but awesome”. For anyone looking for a different and interesting fantasy read, one that explores difficult and emotional topics, this is a book you won’t be sad you read.