Publication Date: 10th June 2021
This book took me completely by surprise in a brilliant way! I’ve just finished reading it and had to sit down and get some words down straight away. This is always a good sign with me!
I’d seen Sorrow And Bliss by Meg Mason doing the rounds on Twitter and when a proof copy dropped through my door I placed it on my proof pile ready for photographing. One night on a whim I picked it up, started reading and after a mere few pages I knew I was in for something GOOD.
The book opens at the point that 40 year old Martha’s marriage to Patrick is disintegrating. There doesn’t seem to be any anger or blame there appears to be a sad resignedness surrounding the end of their relationship.
From here we go back in time through Martha’s early life with her sister Ingrid, and somewhat bohemian parents, her father an unpublished poet and her mother who ‘re-purposes’ items as sculptures. Martha and Ingrid are extremely close siblings and look after each other when their mother is off sculpting in her studio or making a show of herself by drinking too much.
At 17 Martha starts to suffer from an unnamed mental illness which manifests itself with her sitting for days under her desk in her bedroom, barely eating or sleeping. She’s dispatched to the family GP who prescribes antidepressants and sends her on her way. She goes through very dark periods in her life where she can barely get out of bed, interspersed with times where she feels almost ‘normal’. But the dark periods are always hanging over her, lurking around the corner.
We follow the family through the siblings teenage years, spending Christmas and family events at their wealthy Aunt and Uncle’s house with their cousins and cousins friend Patrick, who later of course becomes Martha’s husband.
As the girls grow up Ingrid becomes a mother and Martha is staunchly against motherhood herself for her own private reasons which become painfully apparent as the story progresses.
I loved so many elements of this book! It’s difficult to know where to start and what to focus on first!
For a kick off it’s so funny! Painfully funny, awkwardly funny, darkly funny. The writing is so astute and sharp and Meg Mason really nails ‘normal’ interaction and dialogue between the characters. The little asides and ‘in-jokes’, the portrayal of differing personalities in such an authentic way. I’ve seen other quotes and reviews drawing parallels with Fleabag and I can absolutely see why.
Each of the peripheral characters are fully formed and fleshed out, each with their own idiosyncrasies, and the depiction of the varying interactions between them all is just perfect. The relationship between Martha and Ingrid is gorgeous, they have their own in jokes and shared experiences and an extra special sibling bond. I think for me the relationship between Martha and her Father is particularly beautiful and poignant. He takes her under his wing when she’s ill. He protects her in the smallest of ways without being overbearing. He lets her talk when she needs to but also let’s her sit in his study with him whilst he writes, silently together. Such a special relationship.
The element I loved the most is the way that nothing is tied up neatly in a bow. Nothing is conveniently ‘fixed’ for the sake of the story. Martha’s life is messy, her road to recovery from her mental illness is not linear and a full recovery is not something that is expected of her. She has to deal with life as we all do, the huge up’s and downs, the difficulties in relationships of all kinds, the bumps in the road.
She’s not always a likeable character but I was always rooting for her.
The writing is bang on and I just know that this book will be one of my books of the year. Just brilliant.
Thank you so much to the publisher for my review copy (and can a UK publisher please publish Meg’s back catalogue because it’s expensive to buy them from Australia! Please and thank you most kindly!)
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx