Sunday, 19 July 2009

Tender Morsels and loss of innocence (the horror)

When I was first told that I was going to be reviewing something titled Tender Morsels (and before I'd realised it was that Margo Lanagan book that people seemed so impressed with) I wasn't sure what to expect. But what the title did not make me think of was a "paedophile website". I wonder what that says about the Daily Mail's Danuta Kean.

The Daily Mail article is (predictably) the worst, but there's been quite a bit of horror and clutching of pearls across the British media over Lanagan's book and the cruel, brutal way in which authors are snatching away children's innocence. (It's not like we've been through this before or anything anyway).

There's plenty to criticise about these articles - including the writers' seeming inability to see a difference between seven year olds and fifteen year olds, as well as the odd belief that children's books have never been violent before. (Flowers in the Attic? The Chocolate War? How about Watership Down, that scared the life out of me?)

But what fascinates me most about this particular point of view is that it takes for granted that violence is simply not a part of children's lives unless forcefully introduced by malevolent writers. It's a world where there's no schoolyard bullying, and if there is it's because the bully is insecure and misunderstood and everyone is friends in the end. It's certainly a world where there is no sexualised violence. No children are abused by members of their family or other adults they know. No one is raped. Homophobic bullying never leads to death. Everything is lovely.

And apart from one big news story every year or so about how all these children are being abused and nobody's talking about it, nobody talks about it. We'll still get outraged columns about how teenagers are getting more violent and attacking each other (what is going on? how can this be?) but not where things like the family and the church are concerned. Not enough, considering the sheer enormity of these statistics.

I'm not trying to suggest that Lanagan in any way wrote Tender Morsels for the purpose of educating people about sexual violence, or to raise awareness for young readers (though I believe that if the book does those things too, that is a good thing). But consider a child (or a teenager, since this particular book hasn't been targeted towards younger readers) for whom sexual violence is already a part of life; and who, like so many people, has been unable to get it out there or talk about it or begin any sort of process that would allow her (or him) to heal. I can't help feeling that some people need for books like this (that will admit the existence of violence, confront it honestly, allow its full horror to be expressed) to be available. I could write at length on how good Tender Morsels is, and how it both impressed me and gutted me, but for reasons apart from it being a very good book (though the two are clearly interconnected), I'm glad it exists.

5 comments:

celine said...

It's also almost unbearably beautifully written.

Aishwarya said...

It is; it's the loveliest thing I've read this year.

Celine said...

I found it so sad though - my agent keeps telling me to stick with it to the end. But I am just overwhelmed with sadness each time I try to finish it.

musie said...

Thank you for posting this. I haven't read Tender Morsels, but am definitely planning on doing so. Thank you also for linking to the Daily Mail review. I'm always infuriated by pearl-clutching people who go around insisting that things are inappropriate for the children! The innocent children!

I recently had an encounter of this sort with regards to my baby brother, who is fourteen and away at boarding school. He's a very smart, mature kid, and my mother raised him to read whatever he wanted, with the stipulation that he discuss things that he didn't understand with her, or with me if he was embarrassed about asking her about something. He picked up my copy of "A Clockwork Orange" and read it, with my blessing and hers. Unfortunately, his advisor at boarding school saw him reading it and ordered it sent home, under the grounds that it was inappropriate for his age group-- though he was reading it with his mother's permission.

Obviously it's nice to think that children should be protected and kept innocent. At the same time, though, children are insatiably curious and have plenty of scandalous things going on in their own worlds, and reinforcing the idea of protection protection protection effectively closes off the possibility of communication about these things between the parent and the child. I'm by no means saying that things should be forced upon a kid or a teenager, but if they express interest in a book, it should be fostered.

And... I've gone on much longer than I intended, but this subject makes me rant, apparently. I just discovered your blog and am really enjoying it!

Aishwarya said...

Celine - It drained me emotionally more than anything else has in a long time.

Musie - I had that happen when I was thirteen, with a teacher who did not approve of the books (presents from the family) that she saw me reading (though in her case it was more of a worry that reading books about teenagers would make me interested in sex? or something). Mine was a day school, so you'd think she'd have even less of a right to pass judgment on what I read.
Agree with you completely on this sort of thing making it difficult for parents and children to communicate - which to me is far more dangerous.