Oct 28, 08
Recommended to Sarah by:
Read in October, 2008
Once upon a time, the skeleton of this story was called Snow-White and Rose-Red. Like all fairy tales, it left much unexplained. Too much. Well, Margo Lanagan took those bones and added muscle and guts, bracing the loose joints of the plot with her characters' emotions, motivations, and histories. That's the secret of successful retellings: fleshing out the gaps that relied almost entirely on the readers' willful ignorance or suspension of belief, yet still leaving room for the existence of magic. And Lanagan knows how to handle magic delicately enough to make it believable: Tender Morsels revolves around magical doings, but never degrades enchantment to the level of coincidence. The plot must bend to fit the whims of the magic, and never, ever the reverse. Yet the setting is so rich that it all feels impossibly real.
And the characters -- hoo, the characters. They are vivid, passionate, flawed, sometimes randy (but never gratuitous), and fiercely devoted to their hearts' desires. Desires tangled with magic, though, turn out to have more power than any one of them have bargained for.
It's been almost a week and I am still basking and soaking in this story. It is deep, thick, and heavy, but not in the ways that makes reading tiresome. It isn't a book you finish and set aside -- you surface from it and wait for it to roll off you. (I know, I know -- I'm going all purple and gushy. Plus I've overshot my adjective quota without ever managing to work in "visceral." Crap.)
An about face: I am somewhat loathe to admit this is not a book for everyone. Not by a long shot. The switching points of view, the nature of the abuse Liga weathers, and the spattering of old world Britishy-Irishy dialect each have the potential to deter a number of readers.
However, if you loved the themes of sweetness and brutality in The Giver, the robust characters and setting of The Moorchild, and the emotional tone of Donna Jo Napoli's fairy tale-based novels, I'd lay odds you'll be content to envelop yourself for a few days in Tender Morsels. It is quite possibly THE best reading experience I've had so far this year.