Shelf Control #138: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!


Title: Tender Morsels
Author: Margo Lanagan
Published: 2007
Length: 436 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Tender Morsels is a dark and vivid story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them. Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, a world given to her in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters grow up in this soft place, protected from the violence that once harmed their mother. But the real world cannot be denied forever—magicked men and wild bears break down the borders of Liga’s refuge. Now, having known Heaven, how will these three women survive in a world where beauty and brutality lie side by side?

And from the synopsis of another edition:

In her inspired re-working of the fairy-tale Snow White and Rose Red Margo Lanagan has created characters that are vivid, passionate, flawed and fiercely devoted to their hearts’ desires, whether these desires are good or evil. It is the story of two worlds – one real, one magical – and how, despite the safe haven her magical world offers to those who have suffered, her characters can never turn their backs on the real world, with all its beauty and brutality.

Tender Morsels is an astonishing novel, fraught with the tension between love and horror, violence and tenderness, despair and hope.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy many years ago.

Why I want to read it:

After reading Margo Lanagan’s amazing short story collection Black Juice, I was dying to read more by this author. I also read her novel The Brides of Rollrock Island, which I thought was incredibly beautiful (but also disturbing.) I’ve heard that Tender Morsels is very dark, and I’ve read some pretty extreme reviews both pro and con, which make me even more convinced that I should read it and judge for myself.


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
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Have fun!














Book Review: The Brides of Rollrock Island

Book Review: The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

I’ve been a bit in awe of Margo Lanagan ever since reading her story collection Black Juice. Regular readers of my blog will know that I have an aversion to short stories; no matter how well written, I get antsy and never quite make it through an entire book of stories, at least not without a lot of hair-pulling. Not so with Black Juice; I was captivated, start to finish, by the author’s language and the mood she creates. The lead story in Black Juice, “Singing My Sister Down”, has to be one of the saddest and most matter-of-factly tragic stories I’ve ever encountered. There’s also a very odd story told from the perspective of elephants, but that’s okay… it was weird but it worked.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the publication of The Brides of Rollrock Island for some months now, and was delighted to finally get my hands on a copy. The verdict? In short, well worth the wait.

The Brides of Rollrock Island is a novel — which often feels more like a collection of linked stories — about the odd lives of the people of windswept, sea-battered Rollrock Island. Generations gone by, legend has it, the men of the island would take sea-wives, women called forth from the sea, leaving behind their true forms as seals in order to live and love among men. Children grow up hearing whispers of these lovely women, but it’s so long ago as to be remembered only by the great-grandparents among the town.

Into this small, isolated island community is born a homely little girl named Misskaella, youngest daughter of the rather large Prout family. Misskaella is valued by no one, considered odd and ugly, and grows up realizing that the men and women of the island either scorn or pity her. Yet Misskaella has one thing that no one else does — the magic to call to the seals. Misskaella revives the island’s past by bringing forth a sea-wife for one young man of the town. The woman is ethereally beautiful — graceful, slender, with large dark eyes and silky black hair. By comparison, the other women of Rollrock appear frowzy and rough. The men are enchanted, and bit by bit, the island is emptied as the womenfolk, deserted in favor of the sea-wives, leave the island. The men of Rollrock shower Misskaella with treasures and provide her with a place of honor in the town, and in return, she makes sure that they have lovely sea-wives to marry and to provide them with sons.

The men and boys treat their women (the mams, as the boys call them) with veneration and tender care, never losing their fascination with the women’s gentle beauty and fragility. And the women love their husbands and sons, without doubt, yet they pine for the sea and the world that they lost.

Did Misskaella bless the men of Rollrock Island with true love? Or did she exact a torturous revenge upon all the island folks by gifting them with love that must inevitably lead to pain?

It’s hard to describe just how strange and beautiful is the language of The Brides of Rollrock Island. Margo Lanagan’s words twist and cut, caress and murmur. She evokes the crash of the sea, the pervasive smell of the ocean air, the natural wonders of the island and the sea:

And down the cliff we went. It was a poisonous day. Every now and again the wind would take a rest from pressing us to the wall, and try to pull us off it instead. We would grab together and sit then, making a bigger person’s weight that it could not remove. The sea was gray with white dabs of temper all over it; the sky hung full of ragged strips of cloud.

Ms. Lanagan use the first person plural throughout; the narrative is full of what “we” did and how “we” felt, creating with the very words a sense of tight-knit community and insularity. Her odd vernacular seems particularly suited to this island of outcasts and loners, and her writing creates its own spell throughout the book.

The Brides of Rollrock Island is not a typical romance or fantasy, not a supernatural love story or thriller. This is a book of magical power and grace, of tragedy and sorrow as well as love, filled with lyrical writing unlike most anything on bookstore shelves today. Don’t miss it.



The Monday agenda

Not a lofty, ambitious to-be-read list consisting of 100+ book titles. Just a simple plan for the upcoming week — what I’m reading now, what I plan to read next, and what I’m hoping to squeeze in among the nooks and crannies.

Back to work, back to real life… but there’s always time to talk about reading! Onward with the Monday agenda:

From last week:

Hmm, how’d I do?

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: I finished this over the weekend (my review is here). Loved this book! I’d been aching for some good fiction, after a week of non-fiction reading, and this one definitely fit the bill. Highly recommended.

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan: Just started!

I got pretty bogged down with playing with my new bookshelves and hitting the public library’s big used book sale ( you can see my recap here), both of which kept me thinking about books a lot (fun!) but reading a bit less than usual (not so fun).

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon (group re-read): Intense. Amazing.

And this week’s new agenda:

I just started The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan last night, and it’s pretty much love at first sight. Magical, ominous, unique… it was hard to tear myself away so I could get some sleep.

Why is it that all of my library requests seem to arrive at once? Now checked out and waiting to be read: The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, and The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli. I’ll be luck to get to any of these this week, because…

The Casual Vacancy is coming! I’ve had J. K. Rowling’s new book (for grown-ups!) on pre-order for months, and it’s finally being released later this week. While the subject matter doesn’t sound all that thrilling to me, I’m certainly willing to give a try to anything JKR writes. Who else is planning to read The Casual Vacancy right away?

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon (group re-read): Chapters 50 and 51 on deck for this week. Chapter 50 is essential — big reveals, big confrontations. Can’t wait.

So many book, so little time…

That’s my agenda. What’s yours? Add your comments to share your bookish agenda for the week.