Tender Morsels – Margo Lanagan

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Winner of The World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, 2009

I first saw Tender Morsels on Nymeth’s blog. Her passionate review was enough for me to add it straight to the wish list.

Tender Morsels is a beautiful, but dark, fairy tale. The book begins with one of the best pieces of writing I’ve seen in 2009. In the first few chapters we learn about Liga, a young woman living with her abusive father in the woods. Abused and raped, Liga finds herself pregnant and ends up alone in the world with two daughters. I loved this section so much that I thought this book would become one of my all time favourites. The scenes were vivid, without being graphic, and were packed with emotion.

Unfortunately, everything started to go wrong at about the hundred page mark, when, to make up for the terrible suffering that she had endured, Liga was transported to another world – one in which she was safe from harm.

I struggled to empathise with Liga at this point. The introduction of talking bears and other fairy-tale characters meant that all the tension and emotion just vanished for me. I found my reaction to be summed up really well by one of Liga’s daughters:

‘All the people do at home is smile and smile, and be kind. They have no opinions, and never want to go anywhere or do anything new. It is terribly dull.’

The writing was beautiful throughout and I can see why so many people love this book, but I’m afraid that the alternate world section just didn’t work for me. The book picked up a bit towards the end, but never regained the magic of the first few chapters.

I’m pleased that I read it, and recommend it to everyone, but I think you just need to be warned that it might not be for those who like their books to be based on reality.



Have you read Tender Morsels?

Do you have a problem with talking bears?!

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  1. Amanda says:

    It was a very strange book. I actually liked the fantasy sections, but the cloth-men part was too much for me. It sort of ruined the book a little. Other than that, though, I loved it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amanda, I didn’t have a problem with the cloth-men scene, as I found it emotional and served a moral purpose. It was the long middle section that I found too much.

  2. I have no problem with talkng bears, so I’m still excited to read this book.
    Did you find yourself wondering where the story would have gone if it had stayed grounded in reality?

    1. Jackie says:

      Lija, I would have loved the story to have stayed in reality. I am still thinking about what might have happened and think I would have loved it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  3. mee says:

    I’m definitely going to read this book in the next couple of months. I don’t mind fantasy elements so it might work well for me :)

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, I am very strange when it comes to fantasy elements. Somtimes I love them (Murakami, Pullman) but sometimes they just don’t click with me. I hope that you enjoy this book.

  4. Kathleen says:

    I’m looking for good fantasy novels to read in 2010 since I am trying to branch out and read different genres instead of the same old stuff. This will be a good one for me if I go into it with the proper mindset about what I am going to be reading.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, It is great to hear that you are branching out into other areas. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on this one.

  5. Sandy says:

    Based on the awful stuff going on in the first hundred pages, I can understand the justification for fantasy. What kid wouldn’t want to escape and hang out with talking bears, after having children that were actually her siblings. You’ve intrigued me. I think I might like that sudden right turn.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I think the addition of fantasy was very clever, the fact that they didn’t enjoy perfection as it was boring was an interesting concept. I have a feeling that you’d love this book, so I hope you find a copy at some point.

  6. Mome Rath says:

    I’ve never had a problem with talking bears, but your question made me laugh! I guess growing up with Pooh and Paddington and Baloo, I never gave it much thought.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mome Rath, I guess I don’t have a problem with talking bears in childrens’ books. I grew up with all the ones you mention, so it didn’t bother me as a child. I think it was just the big switch in mood that meant I found the bears irritating in this book.

  7. Jenny says:

    I like your cover better than the cover I’ve seen – a stylized girl hugging a stylized bear. This one looks more bleak, which apparently is what the book is like! I enjoy a talking bear, but there are times and places for things, so I guess I’d have to see about this one.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I love all the covers I’ve seen for this book, but agree that this one is the most appropriate. That hugging bear makes it look too sweet and light hearted.

  8. Karen says:

    I think I would have a problem with talking bears – although having said that, I didn’t have a problem with them in the Phillip Pulman Golden Compass series. Generally speaking though I do struggle with fantasy books so I might stay away from this one.

    1. Jackie says:

      Karen, I didn’t have a problem with Pulman’s bears in the books (but they irritated me in the films!) It seems that talking bears are treading a very fine line between love and hate with me!

  9. When I read talking bears, I thought of Philip Pullman as well. I do like talking bears – be it Tubby Bear from Noddy, or, Baloo from Jungle Book.

    I quite like the sound of this book (talking bears…count me in!)!

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, It is amazing how many talking bears there are when you start to think about it! I think you’ll probably enjoy this one, but I never really know with your book taste being so random!

  10. Beth F says:

    I like fantasy, and I’ve been wanting to read this one. Talking bears are ok by me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, I’m sure you’ll love this one. I hope you manage to get round to it soon.

  11. Simon S says:

    This sounds interesting, evry interesting. I do love a good fairy tale for whatever age group. I sadly would have to get one with a different cover (if one exists) as it freaks me out a bit and makes me feel uncomfortable, not sure why.

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, I think this book is aimed at YA, but probably only for marketing reasons – it contains a lot of very adult themes, so is equally suitable for both groups. There is another cover, with a bear hugging a young girl – I think you’ll find that much more suitable! I think the UK paperback will have the bear cover, so not long to wait for one that doesn’t freak you out!

  12. softdrink says:

    That has got to be one of the creepiest covers I’ve even seen.

    1. Jackie says:

      softdrink, I know – I love it!

  13. She says:

    I like the unreal so this sounds like it might work out for me :) I like the cover too– very girl with the pearl earring meets dark and scary. Thanks for the review, and I’m sorry it lost some of its magic for you.

    1. Jackie says:

      She, I hadn’t noticed the similarity to The Girl with the Pearl Earring before – it is a scary version!

  14. Jenners says:

    This cracked me up … your reaction sounds like one my husband would have. He needs everything to be grounded in reality. : )

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I’m pleased that I amused you! I don’t need everything grounded in reality – but it helps!!

  15. S. Krishna says:

    Hmm…this sounds interesting, but I’m not sure. Thanks for the review!

  16. As you know, I’ve been really wanting to read this and have no issues with talking bears – I adored Iorek Byrnison in His Dark Materials! Nothing more to add currently; glad you enjoyed it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I have a feeling that you’ll love this. On your top ten list for 2010?

  17. I absolutely adored this…my book of the year – without a shadow of a doubt. You’re spot-on – those first pages are beyond stunning. I loved the fantasy elements too (though not usually a fantasy fan)… What surprised me was that the book is classed as YA (solely YA in the US and both YA and adult in the UK, if I recall). So my main question is not, can you cope with talking bears (and, actually, if my memory serves me right, they don’t talk in the ‘other’ world, do they?) but is this an adult tale or a teen tale – or both (or does it even matter)?

    1. Jackie says:

      Jane Alexander, I can see why you and so many others love this book, but I do prefer slightly more realistic plots. I am very surprised this book is classed as YA – I guess that is due to the teenage protagonist?

      I don’t have a problem with teenagers reading it, but I hope that the label doesn’t put off adults as I know they will love it just as much. The themes are universal, not just of relevance to younger people.


  1. Bookie Mee | Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

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