Friday 13 November 2009

The best sort of YA book is not really for YAs

That I have read Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels is a testament to the power of the interwebs, friends - specifically to the power of the book blog, for if it weren't for Raych's post on this book I would not have read it. If it weren't for the interwebs and my bookstore, I don't think any very recently published tomes would penetrate my consciousness these days (except for The Time Traveller's Wife, which 50 people a week ask me for; no one's yet asked me for Tender Morsels, the fools). I just want to dive into a pool filled not with water but with novels penned by a variety of Victorians, P.G. Wodehouse, and Ellis Peters and drown in bookish happiness.

What I'm saying is, Tender Morsels is a little bit of a departure from what I'm craving at this particular moment but it's exactly what I wanted when I found myself disappointed by that half-arsed Philip Pullman book a little ways back. Lanagan's book abounds in magic and inexplicable happenings, and the writing is really damned good in a capital-s Story sort of way, and like all the best YA novels out there, it isn't what many parents would consider suitable for YAs. It is fully of nasties and terrors and sex good, confusing, and very, very bad - and I absolutely loved it.

Reading books like this makes me feel a desperate sort of pain about my own inability to write creatively anymore. I want to write books like this, more than I can say. But every time I come up with a halfway good idea, I kill it to death by immediately analyzing it as though I were still a literary critic. I do this much against my will and can only hope that as more time passes, I'll be able to shed that aspect of my grad school life as well.

Back to Tender Morsels. It's a retelling of Snow White and Rose Red, a fairy tale I read repeatedly as a child, as it was in my favourite books, the 2-volume set of The World's Best Loved Fairy Tales. Like the original story, Tender Morsels includes the angry little dwarf with the beard and love of gold, as well as the bear who wins the hearts of the beautiful sisters. But the sort of suppressed sexuality barely hinted at in the original is in Lanagan's book explored with a great deal of confidence (and sometimes rather grisly relish) for the book begins and ends with gang rape and there's a whole bunch of alternately compelling and disturbing looks at human-animal sex in between.

If you're disturbed by the notion of human-animal sex being compelling, just make yourself feel better by thinking of this book as saying something allegorically about the limits of human civilization and what lies beneath the surface. I'm sure this book, and most other fairy tales, function primarily at the level of the allegorical, but Tender Morsels is so good - and so uncomfortably so at points - precisely because it keeps the allegorical so earthly and literally immediate.

PS-Raych not only reviewed Tender Morsels, but also interviewed Lanagan - check it out here.

PPS-I've had a number of ideas for reviewing books without writing book reviews but in the cold light of day they're none of them very good; indeed, some are downright embarrassing. I'll keep my thinking cap on and see if I can come up with some better ideas. Or maybe in the meantime, I'll magically go back to loving my blog just as it is.


Heidenkind said...

It begins AND ENDS with gang rape? Er, wow.

The animal sex I don't have problem with. ;)

Celine said...

Though I found TM gruelling with a capital G, I loved it. Most especially - in fact almost entirely - for it's magnificent use of language. It's a sensory feast.

Celine said...

PS, being the graphic-design anal freak that I am, I must confess that I hate that damned cover you have on your review. This one is my favourite (it is, I believe, the one that my beloved Allen and Unwin chose)

Next to that one, I actually love the one that Margo L doesn't like

Meytal Radzinski said...

I'm going to assume that this is one of those books that seems like it'll be terrible (gang rape...?) but ends up good. I think it'll make it easier to sleep at night...

That said, I'll take your word for it and will seek this out at some point. Probably on a bright sunny day with lots of comforting objects around.

Bookphilia said...

heidenkind: er wow is right. But it's so good that it's worth getting past. I just thought I should warn people who hadn't read the book.

Celine: Yes, the language really is magnificent isn't it?

As for the cover, the one I have here is the only one I actually really like. To each his own I guess!

An Anonymous Child: This book is definitely VERY uncomfortable at points. But it's never gratuitous; everything follows the logic of the story, if you know what I mean. I love it!

celine said...

Re the covers. I think this books series of covers caused almost as much chat as the contents!

Kailana said...

I really need to read this!