Review: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Tender Morsels coverTitle: Tender Morsels
Author: Lanagan, Margo
Length: 436 pages
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher / Year: Knopf / 2008
Source: BookDepository.
Rating: 5/5
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.

25 thoughts on “Review: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

  1. Bina

    I’ve heard so much about this book, so I’m glad to hear from you that all the praise is well-deserved. It’s such an important book, but I’m fearing the “emotionally exhaustive”. I think I just need to be in the right mood for this one. It worked for Oates’ “Rape. A Love Story”, too.

    1. amymckie

      Phew you’re right in comparing the emotionally exhaustive aspect of this book to Oates’ book which I read around the same time as this one Bina. Both are so worth it though.

  2. Eva

    You’re back! *happy dance*

    I am so glad you had the same reaction to this as me. I really need to reread it & talk about it again on my blog, it’s so important. But at the same time, it’s challenging to put myself at that level of vulnerability.

    Have you read Brides of Rollrock Island yet? Just as incredible w/o the emotional exhaustion.

    1. amymckie

      Completely understand Eva! I’m so glad that you, Ana, and Iris mentioned this one enough to get me to actually read it!

      I actually just recently read Brides of Rollrock Island – I really enjoyed it, but not as much. I think without the emotional exhaustion it just doesn’t seem as… amazing? needed? perfect? unsure! Still really interesting read though.

  3. zibilee

    I have wanted to read this book for the longest time, but have never actually gone out and purchased it. the library has it, but not on audio, and I know better than to try to check out a library book, because it always takes me some time to read them. It sounds a story that can’t fail in touching a chord in its readers, and that you found it particularly moving and profound. That’s really all I need to know. I am off to grab this one as soon as I can! Excellent review today, Amy!!

  4. Iris

    Amy, your review captures so much of this book. I never got around to writing about it because I wasn’t sure if I could do it justice, but you certainly did.

  5. Andi Miller

    I see SO many great reviews of this one, I do vow to read it. I started reading a sample and the dialect threw me off, but it sounds like it’s worth muddling through in the beginning to read such a great story.

    1. amymckie

      The dialect got much better after the first chapter Andi, if that makes a difference. It was weird I hated the dialect at first, but then I found it just forced me to be a bit slower which, given the topics, was a good thing. I hope you enjoy it more if you try it again!

  6. Bookfool, aka Nancy

    I checked this one out from the library because I’d read so many gushy reviews and . . . blah. Couldn’t get into it at all. Maybe someday I’ll try again. Not now, though.

    Sure took me a long time to get back here to read reviews and — oh, no! — you’re hardly reviewing at all! Darn! I need to do that . . . live more, review less. 😉 Hope you’re having a fabulous year, Amy.

    1. amymckie

      I’m sorry it didn’t work as well for you Nancy – I think with the fantasy elements it won’t work for everyone. Of course, the first chapter was my least favourite part of the book…

      But yes, too much life but sadly most of it has been work, so I don’t recommend it 😉 I hope you are doing well!

  7. Pingback: Further Thoughts: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan | Amy Reads

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