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". . .a fairy tale world full of darkness and evil. . ."
Tender Morsels: A grim fairy tale beginning with a long drawn out middle and a satisfying ending.
Liga Longfield is the poacher’s daughter who lives on the outskirts of town in a rundown shack where her father keeps her close–too close. With foul concoctions purchased from midwife Annie, Liga’s father gets rid of the evidence of his incestuous activities until the night he dies in a ditch coming home from Annie’s, leaving Liga pregnant at the age of fifteen and alone. She hides her baby from prying eyes until the night five boys from the town break into the shack and rape and beat her.
Sick at heart and in her soul, Liga decides to throw her baby and herself off a cliff, but is saved and sent to the world of her heart’s desire where no one cares about how Liga’s baby was born or from where they came . She is given two bushes, one red and the other white, to plant on either side of the front porch. She gives birth to a baby as dark as her first baby is light. She names the dark haired baby Urdda and the silvery haired baby Branza. The little family settles down to live in a house like a more beautiful version of the shack where she was born and raised for the first fifteen years of her life, learning embroidery from a woman in town and settling into a safe and quiet life in the world of her heart’s desire until Collaby Dought, a dwarf running from debts in fear of his life, talks midwife Annie into opening a way into the world of his heart’s desire. Collaby ends up in Liga’s world, changing the balance between the two worlds that must be set right.
Margo Lanagan thrusts the reader immediately into a fairy tale world full of darkness and evil in Tender Morsels that is at first a difficult read. The language is a colloquial form of English that takes a while to understand, making the first few chapters slow going. Switching back and forth between Liga’s world and the real world of St. Olafred is a bit of a jolt, as are the different points of view, some written in third person and some in first person, giving the whole narrative a surrealistic feel and uneven flow.
From the brutal and dark beginning, Lanagan moves into a dreamlike narrative in which little of consequence happens. There are bright moments that offer glimpses of action and a hint of deeper emotions and meaning, but they are all too brief. Even so, Tender Morsels does cast a languid enchantment similar to seeing the world through wavy and bubbled glass where the characters are sketchy and their actions more often than not unfathomable.
The plot moves like a leaf caught in the river’s grasp, sometimes speeding along over white water and other times floating aimlessly. There are bright moments when the course is clear and well written here and there, but the uneven narrative and disconcerting point of view changes make Tender Morsels a thorny story to follow.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell