Review: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

When I met Margo Lanagan last year I made a point of picking this story up as I’d been looking for it for a while without success. My to-read pile demanded I relinquish it so it was a while before I was able to sit down and begin.

I’m not going to lie, the first section of the book is painful to read. The subject matter is raw and devastating but, in my opinion, handled with delicacy and well-researched insight. I can imagine for some people it would be a wrenching experience.

Imagine a terrible situation, then imagine somehow magic allows you to escape. You are transported to a protected bubble formed of your own happy dreams. And you live there, and you and your children grow in peace. Blissful, right? Except the outside world intrudes, poking where it’s not welcome, until the bubble bursts and you end up back where you began—except you are older, and wiser, and infinitely better-prepared to negotiate life in the real world. For me, Tender Morsels is Liga’s story, a story about being a survivor, and more: a thriver. Although there are multiple points-of-view—daughters Branza and Urdda; the bear-men Ramstrong, Bullock and Teasel; the mudwitch Annie and the littlee man who begins the mischief in the first place—the narrative brings everything back to Liga.

My heart broke near the end, for Liga, for all she’d endured and her fledgling hopes dashed (I confess I cried). If anyone deserves a happily ever after, it’s her. But as I finished, I thought: there is still hope for Liga. This is not the end, but the beginning.

The only part of the book that jarred was reading the male point-of-views in first person, especially when they were close together. I do wonder at the choice to present the men in first person and the women in third—was this a comment on the perception of men as subjects and women as objects? Or was there a more prosaic reason for the decision?

So with trigger warnings for abuse (of different kinds), I enjoyed what I consider to be a deft handling of some troubling subject matter, and an exploration of the ramifications (even into the second generation) rather than an exploitation for emotional response. Tread carefully: it may hurt. But life goes on, and can still be beautiful.

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