(I listened to this an an audiobook, so I may have spelled one or two of the character's names wrong. Please let me known if I have!)
Liga is an innocent girl who has suffered from more cruelty in her short existence than many due during their entire life time. Isolated from the nearby village, Liga is sexually abused by her father, which results in several aborted fetuses and one baby girl. After the death of her father, Liga receives no respite. Looked down upon by everyone in town, she finds herself friendless and alone. When she is gang raped by five local boys, she finally snaps and prepares to kill herself and her daughter. Before she can, a celestial being takes pity on her and transports her to a world very much like her own. Only here, the bed where her father abused her in is vanished and her damaged cottage is in perfect shape. When she travels to town, she finds that those who were cold and distant to her before are welcoming and kind. Those who she disliked or feared no longer appear to exist. Liga grows to treasure this small, safe world and begins to raise her two daughters (the second a result of the rape), sweet Branza, and curious Urdda. But the real world cannot remain separate forever. Thanks to the magic of a witch, Liga, Branza, and Urdda find strange creatures visiting their world, such as angry dwarf looking for treasure, and large bears that are really men.
Tender Morsels is a retelling of the little known fairy tale “Snow White and Rose Red,” which tells about two very different sisters. Nearly all of the elements of the original fairytale can be found in this story, but the author has built up a fascinating story around it. As you can probably tell from the summary above, the story is often quite dark, so dark sometimes that I had a hard time listening to the audiobook. It's impossible not to feel sorry for little Liga during her perils, and happy when she finally finds some peace in the personal heaven she discovers. Despite it's darkness, there also exists moments of great sweetness and happiness, and the book is, for the most part, rather positive. The author, Margo Lanagan, deals with these two opposing elements with the utmost skill, the two often appearing side by side. In fact one of the biggest messages of the book is how these two forces must exist together. Yes the world can be impossibly cruel, and it's people evil beyond belief, but it also has the opportunity to exhibit great joy. To give up the deepest of the darks, would result in the discarding of the brightest of the lights.
But I'm getting off track. Tender Morsels is a beautiful and terrifying fairy tale retelling. The book is mostly written in third person as it follows the story of Liga, Branza, and Urdda (the audiobook for this section was narrated by a woman), but often branches off into third person as it goes into the minds of some of the men of the book such as the Doubt (the dwarf from the fairytale) and Ramstrong (the bear). As a result the book feels less like a novel than it does a collection of many stories that are interwoven into one beautiful whole. The way that Lanagan weaves in supernatural elements makes it feel like a fairytale. This may sound obvious, but many of the fairy tale retellings I've read simply read like fantasy books. Tender Morsels on the other hand, has elements of wonder and beauty that threw me back to being little and being exposed to fairy tales for the first time. Although I was thrown off a bit by some negative reviews (most from people who found the book too disturbing for them, or protest to it being on the young adult shelf) I am so happy that I did pick this book up. I loved the characters and the story really made me think. Without a doubt it's one of the best books I've read in 2009.
Rating: five stars
Length: 448 pages
Similar Books: Works by Gregory Maguire, such as Wicked, and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister.
Other books I've read by this author: this is my first.
xposted to bookish and temporaryworlds