Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

tender morsels Fifteen-year-old village girl Liga, emotionally and physically battered from bearing two children, one beget through incest, the other through rape, is given a well deserved respite when the Universe smiles on her by magically transporting her to her own personal Heaven, a gentle, patient version of the rough medieval-like world she once knew. Here, there are no brutal fathers, no leering village boys, no stone-faced grummas to judge her. There is only a beautiful little cottage in the middle of a wood populated with friendly beasts, (including a gentle enchanted man-bear who treats Liga’s children like his own cubs) and a welcoming village full of kind and smiling people who never lie or betray. Here, Liga raises her two sweet daughters, fair Branza and dark Urdda, in perfect peace. But the membrane between Liga’s heaven and the real world has grown thin over the years, allowing some who are not as pure-hearted as Liga and her daughters to enter. And likewise, the girls discover they can pass through into the real world of Liga’s tortured past. When teenage Urdda accidentally pushes through into the material world one day while exploring, she finds a place of passion and pain that is completely opposite of her woody haven. She doesn’t want to leave, but she also can’t bear the thought of leaving her beloved mother and sister behind. With the help of a powerful sorceress, she attempts to bring them to her, and sets into motion a chain of events that shakes her family to their core and irrevocably changes the path of their combined destiny. What I have described here barely scratches the surface of the captivating, complex world Aussie author Lanagan has created. Pushing the boundaries of YA literature, this dark, violent fairy tale, containing elements of everything from The Color Purple to the Grimm Brothers’ Bearskin, is rife with themes of memory, identity, lost childhood, family and what it means to grow up. You will need to digest these Tender Morsels for yourself to discover the magnetic power of her dense, gorgeous prose. Deeply imaginative and beautifully written, this is easily one of the best books of 2008.

11 thoughts on “Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

  1. WOW. Lanagan never pulls her punches, and her books of short stories are so very, very good that even though this sounds — a bit like something that will give me nightmares, I’m in — she always manages to pull you from horror into that sort of thoughtful place. Very cool.

  2. Hi Tadmack,

    yes, even though I am a fan and should be used to being surprised by her unusual plots and fertile imagination, this one still floored me. I’m still reeling…it’s extraordinary.

  3. I totally agree. This is one of the best books I’ve read in years. I was blown away.

  4. Right on! On my third read now. I have waited four years for a novel from her, and this exceeds my high expectations.

  5. Even more than Bearskin, Lanagan has done wonders here with the Grimm Bros.’ “Snow White and Rose Red” (which has nothing to do with the Snow White we all think of by default!). Here’s the link:

  6. This was excellent – but I didn’t realize it until a lot later when I couldn’t get it out of my head. The writing is wonderful…but it seemed a little crazy at first, maybe because the plot spans a couple of decades.
    I’d recommend reading Lanagan’s Black Juice to get into the writing style, & then reading this. I didn’t know what to expect at first for Tender Morsels, & I think both the powerful writing & the fairytale plot struck me at the same time.
    Anyway: both great books!!

  7. Hayley, I agree–this is DEFINITELY one I can’t get out of my head. So original. Margo Lanagan is one of my all time favorite authors.

  8. I loved this book, but even at a very liberal school I kept wondering to whom I would feel comfortable recommending this book (and I recommend things like Push and other very “uncomfortable” books to kids at our school). I guess it’s because it is a YA novel and the sex, gang rape, incest, and then voodoo-like spirits sodomizing the men involved in the gang rape seemed off the charts violent. I could have better seen this as an adult novel that I recommended to individual kids but as we don’t separate out books and we let any student 6th-12th take out any book they want from the collection, I feel a bit strange saying to a young adult that I don’t think a young adult novel is appropriate. I don’t know if what I’m saying makes sense but I feel like YA books now feel like they really have to push the edge with sex and violence in order to be popular and that makes them hard to recommend at times. With that said, the writing in this is so good, it makes me sad to think that kids may not give it a chance because of the opening scenes of sexual violence.

  9. Caroline,

    The writing is so lyrical in this that I had to re-read the opening chapter a few times before I truly understood what was happening. Most readers, if they can’t understand what’s going on, will simply pass on the book. In my experience, teens and tweens are great self-censors. I serve a range of 5-8th graders, and place “YA” stickers on the spine of the books that are best for 7th and 8th graders. Parents and teachers know this, and will check in with a student who brings home a YA book. It actually works pretty well at starting a discussion about why the student chose this book. That being said, Tender Morsels is not in our LS/MS library, but is in the HS library (9-12th gr.)

  10. AMAZING BOOK. I had to reread the beginning a few times to understand, but after that it was a refreshing breeze. A must read! One of my top 3 of the year!

  11. In my previous comment, I mentioned how amazing this book is. This books is not the type of book to be just cast aside without second thought, your are meant to float up from its depth, sit there for a moment, digest what you have read, look up and realize that you’re in the real world. Its consistency is like thick, heavy and nourishing soup. It gives me things to think about!
    Keep in mind, that this book has incest, rape, near bestiality, attempted infanticide, and suicidal thoughts. As heavy as it is, this book is definitly on my top 3 list for the year!

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