I can’t believe I actually liked Tender Morsels; 75 pages in, I was convinced that I would hate it. However, it turned out to be quite a good book, although it is uncomfortable to read. (side note: I actually have an autographed hardcover of this book, having chanced upon a remnant of a recent signing in Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL.)
Tender Morsels is generally advertised as a retelling of the Snow White and Rose Red fairy tale, and it does live up to that. It follows a mother and her two daughters, one quiet and one impetuous, and they do encounter a bear. I think that the fairy tale retelling almost does the book a disservice, since the phrase “fairy tale retelling” raises so many different expectations for the reader. I didn’t see how the evocation of the Snow White and Rose Red story was important to the book, but that’s probably something I’m missing, rather than a fault of the book.
The protagonists of the story are Liga, and her two daughters Branza and Urdda. Liga’s first fifteen years of life are quite horrible, she’s is subjected to constant rape, forced abortions and infanticide from her father, all while being totally sheltered from the outside world. After his death, she is left pregnant and becomes an outcast in her town, and is also treated poorly. (This forms the first 75 pages of the book, and is the reason I thought I’d hate the book.) However, her luck finally changes, and she is transported to a safe version of her world, where she raises her daughters in peace. The rest of the book tells of her journey back to the world where she’s from and how she learns to cope with events from her life and trust people again. Her daughters’ stories and fates are also explored.
Liga’s story is ultimately sad and heartbreaking, and I wish the book hadn’t ended the way it had, with Liga’s disappointment. I understand that that was a consequence of Liga having spent twenty five years in her safe world, rather than learning to live with the truth about humanity, however unintended that was. It keeps with the somber tone of the issues the book addresses, but It doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. I was glad that Branza and Urdda were able to get a good ending, though.
I was also made uncomfortable by the controversial “rape as vengeance” scene, but that seemed to be the intent. It also fits in with the tone of the book, though, and I understand why it was there.
Overall, an uncomfortable but thought-provoking book, and one I’m glad I read.
This is book 8 of 25 of my Dec 11, 2011 book challenge.
Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
Knopf, 2008 | Buy the book
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