Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan: Book review

Tender Morsels, Margo LanaganTender Morsels came to my attention a while back after I read some ruckus about nutbags trying to get it banned (or something) because it depicts bears having sex with girls. And who doesn’t want to read about bears having sex with girls? I immediately bought a copy.

But anyone reading this book for the bear sex is a) an idiot, and b) going to be disappointed. Tender Morsels is like picking up a strange rock and marvelling at its different colours as you turn it over in your hand. The dark-fairy-tale plot is spectacularly unexpected: A young woman called Liga is subjected to horrifying abuse at the hands of men, so when mysterious magical forces give her the opportunity to retreat into a custom-made fantasy world, she takes it. It’s here, in her own personal heaven, that she raises her two daughters: gentle Branza and feisty Urdda.

The women are not entirely cut off from the real world. Several men are able to worm their way into Liga’s heaven – some of them strangely transforming into bears on the way in. Eventually, as the girls mature, it becomes clear they can’t all stay in this little snow globe forever. The story is rich with subtext about how women and those around them cope with and recover from terrible crimes committed against them, and wrapped up in Lanagan’s ethereal and blossoming prose.

This is one of those books that you read and wonder how anyone could find controversial. (But then, I doubt the kind of people who clamour about “controversial” books ever bother reading them.) Tender Morsels is a story about strong, fully-realised women learning to face the world. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any young women I know. Or young men. Or anyone.


Pacific Rim: Movie review

Pacific Rim Charlie HunnamRemember when you were a kid and you’d bake a cake with your mum, and she’d ice it, and she’d let you lick whatever was left in the icing bowl? And the icing tasted soooo good that you tried to persuade her to ditch the cake and just let you eat just icing, and she’d be like “No, shut up and eat your delicious cake”? But then years later you were hanging out with your friends, maybe you were drunk or something, and you decided you’d finally eat that bowl of just icing, Mum be damned, so you did, and it was kind of awesome but it also made you feel kind of gross?

Pacific Rim is that bowl of icing.

Which, OK, is exactly how a movie about giant monsters fighting giant robots* should be. Director Guillermo del Toro, who also co-wrote the screenplay, knows just what kind of film he’s making here. He doesn’t waste time with things like satire or humour or subtlety: Pacific Rim is big and loud and intense and fun and silly. There isn’t a lick of Dark Knight-ish grimness. (PHEW.) If you’re not in the right frame of mind for it, you’ll just hate it: You can’t watch a movie which straight-facedly shouts the line “The apocalypse is cancelled!” without wearing your 14-year-old-idiot-boy googles, because the second you look at Pacific Rim through your grown-up eyes you realise it’s just made from sugar and water and not a whole lot else.

(*Or, to borrow Pacific Rim‘s terminology, “kaiju” fighting “jaegers”. It is very entertaining watching them battle each other! But also pretty exhausting.)

Pacific Rim movie posterScattered around all that spectacle are the characters, which are sketched in then largely forgotten about when the monster-robot fights get underway. They’re a diverse bunch, cheerfully free of that “U-S-A! U-S-A!” grossness in so many other America-saves-the-world blockbusters. Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, who – thank god – has ditched that awful Sons of Anarchy hair/beard combo and seems to have accepted that, yes, he is a beautiful pretty-boy), is an American former jaeger pilot with a tortured past. Stacker Pentecost (the awesome Idris Elba), is the super-macho English military-type leading the last-ditch effort to send the kaiju back down the interdimensional wormhole, or whatever, that they’re leaking out of. Hercules and Chuck Hansen (Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky) are a father-and-son team of jaeger pilots who… I think are meant to be Australian? (They sound Cockney. That is not what Australia sounds like, America*.) Kaiju scientists Geizler and Gottlieb (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) are the not-very-funny comic relief duo, who…

(*I will forgive the film this transgression, only because there’s an early, too-short scene depicting Sydney under attack by a kaiju. And if there’s one thing I like seeing onscreen, it’s giant monsters trashing local landmarks.)

… hey, are you starting to notice a pattern with all those characters? No, not their ridiculous (but kind of admirably over-the-top) names. Something else they share in common? Something like… penises? The only major female character, really the only female character at all*, is Raleigh’s jaeger co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), whose identity is thoroughly, unmistakably stamped “GIRL”. She gets a few obligatory ass-kicking scenes – “obligatory” because how else would you know she’s a Strong Female Character – but mostly she’s demure, quiet, doesn’t do much unless a man has told her to do it**. Seriously, would it have killed del Toro and his collaborators to make just one of the other supporting male characters a woman? Pacific Rim sometimes feels like boys much around with their toys, and it’s annoying.

(*I refuse to count the female Russian jaeger pilot who has approximately two lines of grunting, or  the jaegers’ GLaDOS-y computer system, which is voiced by the GLaDOS, Ellen McLain.)

(**What is interesting about Mako is that, though you expect her to wind up Raleigh’s love interest, the duo’s relationship isn’t that romantic – at least, not explicitly so.)

Honestly I can’t decide if Pacific Rim is like every other blockbuster I ever saw, or not like any other blockbuster I ever saw. It’s unquestionably memorable. And it deserves kudos for a) not desperately attempting to launch a new franchise by ending on even a hint of a sequel, and b) just going for it for 130 minutes. It’s so big it’s numbing. If you ever laughed so hard you just wound up feeling hollow and exhausted and weirdly underwhelmed by the joke that made you laugh in the first place – that is how you will feel watching Pacific Rim.


A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness: Book review

A Monster Calls, Patrick NessWhat do you even say about a book as perfect and brilliant as A Monster Calls?

OK, well, firstly: There is no excuse for anyone not reading this, because it’s barely 200 pages long and you can finish it in a single sitting. (You can buy it online so don’t even try “I don’t have time to go out and buy it”.) It has the extra advantage of being one of those books that draws you tight into its story – you don’t realise how tight till you put it down and can’t stop thinking about what’s on the next page.

Without giving too much away, because one of the (many) pleasures of Patrick Ness’s writing is his skill at unwinding a story, the book is the tale of Conor, a 13-year-old whose mother is battling cancer and whose father is almost entirely absent from his life. Meanwhile, he’s the victim of a recurring nightmare so terrifying that he’s mostly unfazed when he’s visited by a real, ancient monster. This monster promises to tell Conor three stories, which will ultimately help him through deeply troubling events he’s forced to confront.

Ness (whose Chaos Walking trilogy is probably the book series I never shut up about telling people to read, especially people who ask me for excellent YA recommendations. Put it near the top of your to-read pile, please) borrowed the idea for A Monster Calls from Siobhan Dowd, a fellow writer who died of breast cancer before she could write it. Ness’s care and respect for Dowd’s plot runs so deep I was surprised to discover the two never actually met.

Please please please read A Monster Calls. It’s powerful, and beautiful, and one of those truly transcendent reading experiences. There aren’t really that many entries on the List of Things That Made Me Cry*, but, well. This book is on there. In the same way I still think of The X-Files years after watching it when I see the clock turn 10:13, I’ll remember A Monster Calls whenever it’s 12:07.

(*#1: That time I thought I had Oreos at home and spent all day looking forward to eating them then I got home and discovered I did not in fact have any Oreos at home.)