Sunday, February 6, 2011

Review: Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan

This will be a quick review, partly because of time constraints, and partly because I'm finding it difficult to think about how to discuss the book at length. It's a hard book to read, and I fear that any lengthy discussion of it would turn too quickly into a discussion of some of the ideas that it provokes, and then it would become something other than a book review. Not that such a discussion isn't worth having -- I've just been having it in a few too many places recently, and to host it here, right now, would feel repetitive of what I've already said elsewhere.

I learned about Tender Morsels through the controversy described by Scott Westerfeld here. I'm very glad I did, and I hope it gets more attention from that controversy, because it deserves it.

The other reason that this won't be a long review is that I think I can say concisely what makes Tender Morsels unusual, and worth reading:

Almost everything -- every major event -- that occurs in Lanagan's novel is the result of some form of failure or mistake: either a failure of compassion and kindness, or courage, or strength; or intentions that have a little goodness in them, but a lot of selfishness; or are outright selfish, though the selfish person may still have flashes of kindness.

That doesn't mean that there isn't bravery and love and generosity, too. There is. But what Lanagan does; how she weaves them together, seems to me to subvert a lot of our ideas of what a novel is in the first place. Certainly it subverts what I think of as a tenet of the YA genre, which is that the stories are about the protagonists rising up, coming into their own, triumphing over struggle. Tender Morsels doesn't negate that -- but it subverts it. It's the most interesting portrayal and story about agency that I've seen in recent years, and maybe ever.*

At some point, I'd like to say more about it. I just need to think for a while before I do.

* This is meant as a compliment, but of course, there's a great deal that I haven't read. Disclaimer issued so as not to make the superlative hollow: there may be other books with equally interesting and complex portrayals of agency -- but I still think it worth commenting on when I stumble on something that stands out in the history of my own reading.

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