Archive for the ‘Margaret Lanagan’ Category

Lanagan, Margot.  Tender Morsels.  New York: Knopf, 2008.

I decided to read Tender Morsels as a break from my consideration of alternating narratives; all I knew about it was that a lot of people were talking about it, and it sounded interesting.  And I started to read it and, surprise, it contains alternating narratives!   I take that as evidence of how very common the use of these sorts of structures has become in children’s and young adult literature–no longer an innovation, albeit still a sign of some degree of literary pretension and sophistication.

Most of Tender Morsels is a third-person narrative about a woman and her two daughters who live in a world of forests and villages that sounds much like the typical setting of European fairy tales (see my paper “Once: The Land and Its People“)–appropriately so, for the plot centrally involves the women’s dealing with men who transform into bears, as happens in at least one of the Grimm tales.   Also appropriately, the plot centrally involves a wish-fulfilment:  Liga, who has been sexually used by her father and become pregnant by him three times, finally producing a daughter as a result, and then gang-raped by a group of village boys and producing a second daughter as a result of that, is given a better world to live in–the world as she would imagine it if it were to her taste, as she wished it.  It’s unclear why this happens–or who or what gives her the gift–it’s simply what ought to happen to her, and so it does.  So she lives near the same village, but in a version of it free of anyone who frightens her or might harm her–there are simply empty spaces where their houses used to be.  and everyone is pleasant to her, and she learns skills form people who would simply have ignored or looked down on her before.  Liga lives in that place, actually cut off from the real world that has forgotten her and knows nothing of her daughters, until the daughters have grown up.

Nevertheless, others accidentally (and dangerously, we are told), break into Liga’s world.  all of them are men, and when they defile her place separate from the dangerous sexuality of men, they each tell what happens to them in the first person.  One is a greedy man who persuades a witch to get him there so that he can bring back valuables and get rich.  the others are young men taking part in the village’s annual ritual, in which young men dress up as bears and chase and try to kiss all the women in town–a spring festival to make the crops grow, and a playacted freeing of male sexuality, which presumably works to purge it and keep it safe within.  In Liga’s world, when these men accidentally enter it, they appear as bears, one a safely restrained bear, the other a more potentially lustful and dangerous one.  They spend long times in Liga’s world, interacting as bears iwth her and her daughters, but then return home on the same day they left.  Their intrusion also leads to Liga’s daughter and Liga herself getting out of her dream world–a place which isolates and imprisons them even though it is only pleasant, for it’s not their dream.  So the novel gives its characters the wished-for safe place then reveals the necessity of giving it up–the need to be more than just safe, the need to accept the danger of contact with others (especially, it seems, men) in return for the pleasure and humanity of it.   But even then, the contacts made through the dream place play out in positive relationships for Liga and her daughters.  It has allowed the right people to find each other and to interact in the right way, beyond danger.  It’s still a wish-fulfilment fantasy outside of the wish-fulfilment place (which is proably what makes it a novel for young people?).

The alternating narrative here have mainly the effect of being what they are in terms of plot–intrusive: they insist not just on another view of the story, but as first-person interruptions of a third-person story, as alien presences in the dream world that represent various oppositions to its central values of peace and safety and comfort.  they are both dangerously unsettling and necessary if these women are to return to a realer and less safe but more alive world.  thematically, they represent the versions of maleness that create both difficulty and desire for women–greed, lust, nurturing and comfort.  So the book comes to be about how maleness intrudes into the lives of women–a theme mirrored by the use of alternating narratives.

This is a complex novel, although an entertaining one and in the light of the complexity, surursingly easy to read and be gripped by.  I very much enjoyed reading it and bering absorbed by it, even though  I have a feeling I’ve barely begun to understand it.  It would certainly repay a rereading, and not just because of the interest in its alternating narrative construction.