This book has left me with a hangover, and no, not the usual Sunday morning kind, but the kind that only a truly magnificent story can leave you with. The kind where you become so utterly engrossed with the characters, that they become real people, and you start to think of them as friends (I’m not the only one who does this right?). And we all know only a writer oozing with talent can achieve such a feat, and in that case, Meg Mason most definitely qualifies.
This novel starts with Martha, the narrator, having just left her fortieth birthday party that she never wanted, organised by her husband Patrick. Here we are immediately thrown into a relationship in turmoil, but with no answers as to why. After setting the scene, Martha takes us back through time, and we get to follow their story from their first meeting as family friends in their teens, to falling in love, and all that is in between. Including Martha’s desire to never have children.
Sorrow and Bliss is a coming of age novel of a woman turning forty, it is about relationships, love, motherhood, mental health and ultimately what makes us human. Mason’s ability to pin point the most relatable of human traits, and turn them into a dry satirical joke, is in my opinion, the defining point of this novel. ‘This book is both funny and sad’ is the perfect synopsis, because it is, truly funny, and truly sad.
Mason’s portrayal of two individuals changing inside the confines of a marriage is a magnificent portrait of the human condition that none of us can stay the same person as the years go by. And in one of the most relatable quotes of the book, Martha relays what was once a charming joke, as what has now become their biggest downfall, “It used to be a joke between us, that in everything I swing between extremes and he lives his entire life on the middle setting.”
The highlight however, is most surely the characters themselves. Martha, who despite suffering from mental illness, has the best satirical sense of humour, producing plenty of brilliant one liners such as, “When I told him he had the brilliant eyes of a Victorian child who would die the same night of scarlet fever, he laughed excessively.” Martha’s sister, Ingrid, and her share the most beautiful of sister relationships, that I imagine for others like me who don’t have a sister, enacts the perfect fantasy of what you think this relationship would be like. Ingrid is just as funny as Martha, and we get to enjoy this on plenty of occasions, “Watching me dispense such a quantity of pills and capsules into a bowl once, Ingrid, who was with me in the kitchen, making breakfast, said, ‘That looks very filling,’ and asked me if I wanted milk on them.” Despite her living a polar opposite life to Martha, filled with children and a long-term husband. And Patrick, who loves Martha in the way we all wish to be loved, and comes across as just a really really nice guy despite his terrible childhood, although as it becomes clear, not free of faults of his own. Plus there are plenty of other characters to fall in love with, Martha’s Aunty, and her Father, deserve notable mentions for their likeability.
It is very rare I can actually stay awake at night to read, but this story managed to keep sleep at bay, and it was immediately apparent that I would not be able to put this book down until I finished it, gobbling the whole story in just two days. This is the perfect book for all women, at all stages of life, and especially for fans of Jenny Offill, Sally Rooney, and Fleabag. I’m also going to make a big call here in saying that this book will most certainly be featuring on my top reads of 2021, despite it being only January.
I could go on about this book forever, but I won’t keep you any longer because you should go and read Sorrow and Bliss, but until you do, I will leave you with one last Marthaism; “As a child watching the news or listening to it on the radio with my father I thought, when they said ‘the body was discovered by a man walking his dog’, that it was always the same man. I still imagine him, putting his walking shoes on at the door, finding the leash, the familiar dread as he clips it onto the dog’s collar, but still setting out, regardless, in the hope that, today, there won’t be a body. But twenty minutes later, God, there it is.”
Just finished reading it. Loved it! Thanks for the fabulous review/recommendation. I see the rights have been optioned for a film. Let’s hope they do it justice (imagine if they got Phoebe Waller- Bridge involved!).