Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan


I'm not going to do a very good review of this book. I've been rolling it around in my head for a little while now, trying to find some way to write a really good review, and I can't find one. There's a reason for this - an it's the reason that I frequently get frustrated with writing reviews at all - reason being, most of my reviews talk about me as much as (if not more than) the book at hand. I'm an arrogant sort of person, I guess, and it's not easy for me to not be present in what I write, to do what a good writer does, and find a voice, and speak truth (or, as Ms Dickinson puts it famously, tell the truth, but tell it slant). I try to tell the truth, and I get entirely sidetracked into opinions and memories, and ideas, and general overbourne affection to my own thoughts.

Tender Morsels, in a very unique way, doesn't deserve that from me, but I do not know how else to write (judging by my first paragraph, I've already failed at impartiality, after all.). If you want to read good reviews, read Amanda's or Nymeth's. They are better, I can tell you, even before I write mine.

That being said.

In The Lord of the Rings, the most beautiful part to me (and I know, I've probably mentioned it before) is the chapter on Galadriel's Mirror, where Frodo offers her the ring, and she is tempted to take it, where she imagines the beautiful things she would create, that she could be a queen 'terrible and beautiful' of the earth. Then she 'passes the test' and submits to let the ring leave her to be destroyed, and to, herself and her people, sink into obscurity and eventually disappear. It's a scene that's always resonated with me, one of the first things I read as a child that made me cry and fall enduringly in love with a character (Galadriel being closely tied to Princess Ozma in my mind, at about the same time period, I will not try to decide which came first).

Tender Morsels is like an entire book of Galadriel's Mirror.

The book is about a woman and her two daughters, most centrally. The daughters are, respectively, the products of her father molesting her, and a group of men gang-raping her (Yes, this book leaves many reviewers somewhat queasy at times). By the intercession of what is later described as a pixie (and it is a spot on beautiful portrayal of a fairy), the mother is, after the rape, transported into her personal heaven, where she the proceeds to live, and raise her children. The people she is frightened of are gone there, and the people who remain are gentle and kind, and predictable (what she wants, after all, is kindness and security at this point in her life). The world is everything she wants - and completely, of course, insufficient for living a full, beautiful life in. The rest of the book proceeds to slowly, painfully unravel this world, and give the mother and her two daughters the fleeting, painful, but unmistakeably real experience of living a 'real' life, of dreaming real dreams, and having them dissolve the way real dreams do, of feeling pleasures you didn't concoct yourself, and miseries you wished away.

This book was a uniquely painful experience for me to read. With subtle and extraordinary power, Ms Lanagan draws the reader in to feel exactly what the character feels. There is no sugar in this book, no simple answers, and the writer treats all the characters with a deep compassion, the sort of compassion that awakes the most human parts of the reader. But this isn't a book that simply talks you into being more human - continuously, these human pieces are drawn out, then smashed, lured into the open and carved to bits. This is a book that whispers continuously to you of the importance of being fragile and vulnerable and 'tender', while at the same time telling the absolute, terrifying truth about that that vulnerability will cost you.

There is a lot of chatter around this book, alarm that it's marketed as a teen book particularly being a popular theme of dismay. Teens, some of the arguments say, simply aren't old enough for this book. Friends, I can agree, because frankly *I'm* not old enough to read this book. Most of us aren't old enough. Most of us, I'd guess, will never be old enough. But, then, this book made me older, wiser, more mature in a way that something more my age could not have done. And when I was a teenager, this is the book I wish I'd had, the book that would have taught me how live in a world that is nothing like your parents tell you it will be.

7 comments:

Nymeth said...

You know, one of the reasons why I read blogs is exactly because bloggers don't shy away from being personal. I have trouble seeing a response to a book as anything but personal, even in professional criticism where the word "I" is avoided. We're upfront about how personal we are, and I like that.

I think you did a great job explaining what this book made you feel. I love this bit in particular: "This is a book that whispers continuously to you of the importance of being fragile and vulnerable and 'tender', while at the same time telling the absolute, terrifying truth about that that vulnerability will cost you."

Amanda said...

I can't claim that my review is any less personal - I flatout say I won't really talk about the book by my reaction going through. I think it's impossible not to review this specific book this way.

saveophelia said...

The reason I haven't read it is the same reason you mentioned - I don't think I'm old enough to handle it. One of these days, I'll get to it and it'll come at a good time. In the meantime, this was a great review of it.

Jason Gignac said...

Nymeth - I suppose, I worry, because you don't necessarily learn anything about the book in my reviews, sometimes :P. In your review of this book, for instance, I understood your feelings, but, then, I also found out what the book was about and wanted to read it :D.

Amanda - It is a very personal book. It's like with people. Most people we've met over the years I can tell stories about and remember them for who they were (or at least who I perceived them to be). Then, there are a very few people who I can't tell stories about, because they just make me think of (usually completely unrelated) things about me, instead. Tender Morsels is like the same thing, but in a book.

saveophelia - I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I'm happy to meet you :). I'm kind of torn on the 'not old enough' - I commented on Twitter today that I wish I'd read this book in my teens, because it would have made me a better person, and I think that. There are some things that you are never old enough for until they're past, I imagine - rape, having a child, losing a friend, your first love. I think this book is like that. Sort of... I hope for your sake that you don't get old enough for it before you read it, because it is better to feel some things within the pages of a book, first.

Julie said...

Jason, I noticed you said in your comment that "I worry, you don't necessarily learn anything about the book in my reviews" I think you shouldn't worry since I, for one, always learn something interesting about the book from your book reviews that I wouldn't have thought of or even noticed before. I think that is very telling about the book, itself, as you describe how it made you feel as you read them. It's quite moving.
Here's a what really touched me from your review this time:
"With subtle and extraordinary power, Ms Lanagan draws the reader in to feel exactly what the character feels. There is no sugar in this book, no simple answers, and the writer treats all the characters with a deep compassion, the sort of compassion that awakes the most human parts of the reader."
To "feel" something beyond what I think is exactly why I love to read books.
Thank you for reminding me!

Jason Gignac said...

Julie - thank you it is kind of you to say so.

Anonymous said...

Margo Lanagan book is simply beautiful, painful, delightful. I have the honour of being her publisher in Portugal. «Tender Morsels» will be presented in ou country in the beginning July. The tears I cried because of Liga's life... And her dreams, it would be nice to be able to live in a completely different world... a better one... Teresa Loureiro