Friday, August 21, 2009

Mini-Review and Musings: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

As you may know I have never done a mini-review before - until now. So maybe this isn't actually going to be a mini-review after all, this is more somewhere where I'm putting down my thoughts on this novel with is powerful imagery and reworkings of arcehtypes.

I'm very much aware of the press which lashed out Ms. Lanagan for the violence, horror and awful things that happen in Tender Morsels. I am aware that the publishers had to defend their publishing this novel that pushes the boundaries of children's literature.

But this blog post is only partly about that. I had some coffee with a friend last night and we were chatting about the furore about this novel and I admitted that I had been blown away by the skilled and beautiful writing, the creation of an "other" world that has these strong dreamlike images contained within. Then I admitted that I didn't actually finish reading the book. My friend - let's call her Jane - immediately wanted to know why: was it the violence? was it the things done to the characters?

And I had to admit that no, it was none of these things, at all. What made me stop reading was this feeling of tremendous sadness and loss more than halfway through the novel. I could guess the way it was going to pan out and I didn't want to face up to it. I had become quite attached to one character in the novel - one of the secondary characters who happened on Liga and her daughters whilst they were living in the "other" world. And his story just affected me so much I didn't want to find out how it panned out. Cowardly yes, that's for sure. I'll utterly admit to it. I will finish the novel, but later this year, when I personally feel courageous enough to do so.

Jane and I chatted more about the book, about the central themes and I pointed out that I am surprised by how negatively a lot of people reacted to it. It's not like violence has ever been portrayed in a novel before, especially a children's novel! Has no one read Kevin Brooks or Melvin Burgess or even Kate Thompson? The amazing cover - above - should be a clear indicator to parents and children alike that this is not something to be tackled lightly - and the warning on the back cover. Walk away if you feel it's going to offend you or read it within its context. If you arent' prepared to be challenged as a reader, why pick up something that you suspect you may not be able to cope with

I am not sure how many adults who had read Tender Morsels had ever come across the adult fairy novel anthologies put together by three of the most amazing women working in the industry at the moment - Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling* with Terri and Midori Snyder jointly runningn the simply groundbreaking Endicott Studios website. TM would not have been such a shock to their system then, or if they had ever actually read the original Brothers Grimm in the context of the time or if they had ever thought to delve deeper into the so-called fairy tales from across the world or read any of Angela Carter's novels and short stories and realised that fairy tales are not pretty and sweet and cute - they are not Disney representations of how the world was or is. Fairy tales were never intended for children and it was during Victorian times that the lewd and rude stories were dumbed down for general public consumption and suddenly we had teeny tiny creatures with wings and magic dust.

Tender Morsels is a book not to be tackled lightly - it has some of the most beautiful and disturbing imagery I have ever read. The dreamlike quality, the almost cottony soft scenes of Liga and her girls as they live their simple life is a massive pointer the author is using to let us know that all is in fact, not well.

Tender Morsels is something I would recommend to the parents of intelligent, well informed older children who aren't afraid of a challenging read. And of course, to the parents themselves. Some may find it too brutal, which is fair enough - but please, don't be hypocrital and pretend that your children are never exposed to violence and the awfulness of real life, which is why you are not letting them read it. We would all prefer to live in a violence free decent world where there are no predators but to be honest, it will never happen, unless it's a Disney version of life. Books and themes should be discussed and this novel should be seen as an opportunity to do just that.

And remember, more importantly something crucial about Tender Morsels and the author: it is a book, a story, which the author has worked on, to the best of her ability and knowing Ms. Lanagan's work, (and that of her publishers) she's not someone to do something stupid like try and destroy her own career by producing something that will get her blacklisted by her publishers and readers. Be calm, be reasonable - books have taught and riled up readers for a long old time. But in the end, it's up to you to take it or leave it.

I've taken the liberty of putting together a reading list of books and authors whom I've personally read and know of that deal competently and in a mature fashion with fairy tales, their retellings and reworkings. By no means is this list the last word - there are hundreds more books in the same vein and they make for very interesting reading.

*A suggested reading list:

By Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow
Black Thorn, White Rose
Black Swan, White Raven
Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears
The Coyote Road
The Beastly Bride
Snow White, Blood Red
A Wolf at the Door and other retold Fairy Tales
Swan Sister - fairy tales retold

Other authors:

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales
The Annotated Brothers Grimm by M Tatar
The Hard Facts of the Grimm's Fairytales by M Tatar
Deerskin by Robin McKinley
Beauty by Robin McKinley
Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

End of weird and odd mini-review and musings.


Unknown said...

I was sent this to review and I will be reading it in the next couple of weeks. I have also heard the comments regarding it's violence etc. I always have to finish a book regardless so I will see how I go with this one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

KT Grant said...

How violent are we talking here? I have been reading some YA books where their has been graphic scenes of violence, or maybe it just seems it to me. Strange Angel by Lili St. Crow has a teen girl who kills zombies and other supernatural baddies and those killings are very violent.

And then there is Breaking Dawn and the OMG I am going to puke birthing scene.

Karen Mahoney said...

Wonderful, thoughtful review Liz. As ususal. ;)

I'll be interested to know what you think when you DO finish. I'm going to be reading it soon, myself!


Liz said...

@Katie - hey you - it is a different kind of violence - some implied and some quite visceral but never gore - does that make sense. Read TM if you get the chance and see what you think - just don't react to it immediately - take a few days to mull it over. A highly unusual book with a lot more going on than you would initially have thought.

@Karen - thanks, m'dear! I would like to hear your thoughts on this too. Glad you got a copy to read!

@Book Chick City - fantastic! Looking fwd to hearing your thoughts - do let me know via Twitter when you've got the review up.

Datlow said...

Just so you know, I never worked on the Endicott Studios website with Terri. She and Midori Snyder ran it.

Liz said...

@Datlow - oh gods, Ellen - witness me fail. Thanks for that. I'll amend my blog.

Ana S. said...

TM is my favourite read of the year so far, and even if you didn't finish it I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. Thank you also for the reading list - I have read and loved some of them and will look for the others.