Well, after Jon/Stephen had mentioned all Tender Morsels' sexual content and general weirdness and darkness, and waved the book around and asked "What is in the WATER down there in Australia, that your young people read this sort of story?," I would say:
"This book sits right on the upper edge of the YA category, and in fact in Australia it's fallen right off the fence and is published as an adult book. But, categories-schmategories, Jon/Stephen - this is just a story. I'm going for a sense of story that may be hardwired into us, or at least is laid down when we're very young, and never goes away. If you've ever enjoyed being creeped out by a campfire story, or enchanted by a fairy tale - or in fact if you've ever had an imaginary refuge that you go to in your head, a mountain cave or a sunlit forest glade - you'll like Tender Morsels. This story is the kind that pushes everyday life out of your head completely."
JON/STEPHEN: And replaces it with fornicating bears?
MARGO: Well, bears have gotta do what they gotta do, no? And I have it on good authority, from one grown-up female reader, that some of these bears are dead sexy. There's a lot of bad sex in this story, but the bears get some of the good stuff.
26 October 2008
Reading one of Margo Lanagan's short stories is like running across sizzling tarmac and then plunging into a deep pool of clear, cold water. It's an enormous shock to the system, but it's wonderful. Except by the time you've acclimatised to the cold, you have to haul yourself out of the pool and sprint across the tarmac again before you can jump in the next pool and start all over again. It's an amazing experience, reading a book like Black Juice or Red Spikes. But it takes work.
So I admit I was a little nervous about Tender Morsels. I thought it would be hard work. I knew it would be beautiful - it's Margo, after all, and she is one of the greatest writers in Australia. But I thought it would be one of those books you had to push yourself through.
I was wrong.
Tender Morsels sucked me in from the opening sentence*, and kept me held tight until it rather cruelly spat me out at the end. It is gripping and sad and beautiful. The language is breathtakingly stunning. The characters are real and wonderful. It takes old and tired elements of fantasy - magic, medieval villages, wolves, bears** - and reinvents them, new, glittering, fascinating.
I cannot recommend it highly enough, even if (especially if) you are one of those frankly unenlightened people who thinks they don't like fantasy.
It's published here as an adult novel, in the US and UK as YA. I think it's both. It's crossover. There are... controversial bits.
Read more in this interview with Margo, which includes a lolsome fictional grilling from Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert. Here's a sample:
She's right. The bears are totally hot.
*For those of you who have read the book: yeah, that pun was intentional.
**The BEARS. Oh, Margo! The BEARS. I loved them so very much.