Everyone tells Martha Friel she is clever and beautiful, a brilliant writer who has been loved every day of her adult life by one man, her husband Patrick. A gift, her mother once said, not everybody gets.
So why is everything broken? Why is Martha – on the edge of 40 – friendless, practically jobless and so often sad? And why did Patrick decide to leave?
Maybe she is just too sensitive, someone who finds it harder to be alive than most people. Or maybe – as she has long believed – there is something wrong with her. Something that broke when a little bomb went off in her brain, at 17, and left her changed in a way that no doctor or therapist has ever been able to explain.
Forced to return to her childhood home to live with her dysfunctional, bohemian parents (but without the help of her devoted, foul-mouthed sister Ingrid), Martha has one last chance to find out whether a life is ever too broken to fix – or whether, maybe, by starting over, she will get to write a better ending for herself
This book was all over Book Twitter last year, so I knew I had to get it. There’s always a bit of a worry when everyone loves a book that I’m going to be the weird one who doesn’t – fortunately that was most definitely NOT the case with Sorrow and Bliss. I started it at 9:30pm (that dangerous time when you finish one book and decide it’s not too late to start another!) and stayed up till nearly 2am, having devoured the whole thing (for me, a book hangover = the grogginess the next day after such foolishness when the kids bound in at 5:30am). Totally worth it – I loved every page.
I don’t think I have ever read a book which does so exactly what it says on the tin. The balance of tragedy and comedy in this novel is astounding: within a few sentences, I went from tears welling up in my eyes to laughter, and vice versa. It’s a devastatingly funny book – and Martha’s sister, Ingrid, queen of the one-liners, is one of my new all-time favourite characters. Although Martha’s relationship with her husband, Patrick, is ostensibly the centre of the book, for me, the sisters provided the emotional core. Through their different paths, Mason explores modern womanhood in a way that feels fresh and new.
As someone who has suffered with mental health issues of various different flavours, I was incredibly moved by Martha’s struggles, and I thought the way her diagnosis was handled, late on in the novel, was perfectly done. That feeling of seeing your past in a whole new light because of newfound knowledge about yourself is so powerful, and it’s captured beautifully in Sorrow and Bliss.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough – if you’re a fan of contemporary fiction that dares to be different, that evokes the whole range of emotions, you don’t want to miss this wonderful novel.
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason is published by W&N and is available to purchase here.