By Margo Lanagan
Paperback, 486 pages
2009, Vintage Books
Liga lives in her own personal heaven after the traumatizing events of her childhood and her daughters grow up in this magical landscape with her. When a greedy man magics his way into their world to bring jewels back to his own for personal gain, the borders between the two worlds are forever weakened. Soon others find themselves in this paradise accidentally and when one of Liga’s daughters escapes to the real world, everyone’s lives change.
I bought this book used a whopping six years ago. Recently, my friend Sarah found it at her library and was lured in by the cover (different from mine) and fairy tale retelling aspect, so she asked if I’d heard of it. “I own it!” I cried and began vigorously searching my shelves so that we could buddy read it. It’ll be fun, we thought. Boy, were we wrong.
I knew Tender Morsels would be a dark retelling (and really, fairy tales started out as dark stories for adults, so that’s fine by me) but I didn’t expect this book to start with rape and incest. Look, I’m not normally one for giving trigger warnings (I have opinions on these and they’re best saved for never) but I wasn’t expecting multiple scenes throughout the book to contain rape, incest, forced abortions, sodomy and borderline bestiality. Had I known that prior to reading, I likely wouldn’t have started this book and if I weren’t buddy reading this, I would have DNF’d it. Now you know and can make your own choices.
Oh, I’ll also add that Amazon classifies this as young adult??? And recommends it for readers 14 and up??? I disagree and would classify this as an adult novel and would caution against readers younger than 16 picking it up.
It’s not as though I’ve never read a book with gruesome subjects before, but the way Lanagan handled these subjects seemed heavy handed and unnecessarily detailed. Did I really need to know about a man trapped in a bear’s body pawing down the dress of a young teen girl so that her breast was exposed so he could lick it? NO, no I didn’t.
I believe she could have pulled off the darker subjects by leaving more to the reader’s imagination rather than spelling it all out. Again, maybe if presented in a different way or with prior knowledge of the more unsavory scenes, none of this would have bothered me all that much. This wasn’t a pleasant book to read and while I appreciated Lanagan’s world building and nod to the tales of old, when she wasn’t grossing me out, I was bored, bored, bored.
Liga’s character arc came to a halt once she settled into her magical heaven and her daughters, Branza and Urdda were only slightly more interesting. Had this novel been half as long, maybe it would have been a bit more compelling. It seemed like so much time was devoted to daily chores and the wanderings of the girls, even after they left the magical world for the real one. I never really felt invested in any of the characters, beyond feeling incredibly bad for how Liga’s life started off.
Once back in the real world, Liga’s story picks up again, but only barely. Her main functions seem to be remaining confused and distressed about having returned to the world of her childhood and to continue to hide her horrible past from her daughters.
I liked the concepts of the dual worlds that Lanagan created, but couldn’t find much else about this book that I enjoyed. I don’t understand why some of the men who found their way into the magical world turned into bears, except maybe because that has something to do with the original Snow White and Rose Red tale? The ending was so unsatisfying that it made me mad and if the cover weren’t so pretty, I’d have tossed this off the back porch (a la Bridget Jones and the Edge of Reason.) I’ll settle for putting it on my swap site instead.
If you think you can handle the subject matter of this book and you’re interested in a rather drawn out retelling, maybe you’ll like this. I can’t say I’d recommend it, but if you’ve read it and enjoyed it, I’d love to hear why! I may still give Lanagan’s other work a chance, however, because I do like her writing, just not the content.
Bonus thoughts from my reading partner, Sarah:
Stuff I liked: I will say I really liked her writing style/language and would be curious to read other stuff by her….but hopefully less weird?? That’s probably a major factor in what kept me going…other than morbid curiosity. I liked her take on old-timey/interesting sounding names, they were very original, but at the same time pretty believable.