#BookReview Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

Sorrow and BlissAbout the Book

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.

So why is everything broken?

Maybe Martha is just someone who finds it harder to be alive than most people. Or maybe – as she has long believed – there is something wrong with her.

Forced to return to 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.

Format: Paperback (347 pages)     Publisher: Wieldenfeld & Nicolson
Publication date: 28th April 2022 Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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My Review

This was the July pick for the book club run by Waterstones in Reading. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the meeting but I suspect I may have been in the minority in finding myself rather underwhelmed by Sorrow and Bliss despite the many plaudits it has received, including being shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022.

There were elements I did enjoy such as the witty turns of phrase and Martha’s deadpan humour. ‘On holiday one year, I read Money, thirty pages of it until I remembered that I do not understand Martin Amis.’   I also enjoyed the cast of quirky characters. For example, Martha’s lovely father, an aspiring poet described as ‘a male Sylvia Plath’, Martha’s eccentric mother, Celia, ‘a ‘minorly important sculptor’ who makes art out of found objects or Martha’s sister, Ingrid, whose anecdotes are ‘a three-way combination of hyperbole, lies and factual inaccuracy’ but which are often outrageously funny albeit peppered with swear words. I also loved Martha’s friend Peregrine who treats her to lavish lunches.

So if I enjoyed all these things, why didn’t the book work for me? Mainly it was Martha herself. I tried, I really tried to like her or at least empathise with her mental turmoil but I never fully succeeded. Although she’s often funny, she makes consistently bad choices and comes across as needy, peevish and even cruel at times, alienating those close to her. I felt sorry for her husband Patrick the whole way through and found it hard to forgive the way she treats him. He demonstrates the patience of a saint, putting up with her erratic behaviour for longer than seems humanly possible. And what does he get in return? Accusations of passivity, dishonesty and betrayal.

However probably my biggest frustration with the book is that Martha is diagnosed with a mental condition that is never identified, just indicated by a series of dashes. The first time I came across it, I was just confused; then I became frustrated. Are we supposed to guess what it is or conclude the specifics don’t matter? What’s more this unnamed condition seems to be ‘cured’ in short order by a single medication. In the afterword, the author writes ‘The medical symptoms described in the novel are not consistent with a genuine mental illness. The portrayal of treatment, medication and doctors’ advice is wholly fictional’. Cop out or attempt not to get bogged down in trying to portray a specific mental condition?

There were moments in Sorrow and Bliss where I laughed out loud and I have to admit that, in Martha, the author has created a distinctive and memorable character, but there was just something missing for me. Perhaps if I’d been able to go to that book club meeting I might have discovered what it was and been able to look at the book in a new light.

In three words: Witty, dark, poignant


Meg MasonAbout the Author

Meg Mason began her journalism career at the Financial Times and The Times. Her work has since appeared in Vogue, Grazia, the Sunday Times, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sunday Telegraph. She has written humour for the New Yorker, been a monthly columnist for GQ, a regular contributor to Vogue and Marie Claire, and a contributing editor at Elle. She lives in Sydney with her husband and two daughters. (Photo: Goodreads author page)

Connect with Meg
Website

#WWWWednesday – 3rd August 2022

WWWWednesdays

Hosted by Taking on a World of Words, this meme is all about the three Ws:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Why not join in too?  Leave a comment with your link at Taking on a World of Words and then go blog hopping!


Currently reading

The Bone RoadThe Bone Road by N. E. Solomons (ARC, Polygon)

On the road to discovery, even the dead have secrets.

High up on a mountain road in the Balkans, former Olympic cyclist Heather Bishop races her journalist boyfriend Ryan. But when he suddenly disappears during the ride, suspicion falls on her.

Local police inspector, Simo Subotić, already has his hands full investigating two mutilated bodies that have washed up on the banks of the River Drina. Something is telling him that these two cases are connected but nothing could prepare him for what is to come.

Only together can Simo and Heather hope to uncover the truth in time. Their search not only exposes the darkness of Ryan’s past but exhumes dangerous secrets of a region still reeling from the trauma of war. Are some secrets so devastating that they should remain buried?

The Lost Diary of Samuel PepysThe Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys by Jack Jewers (eARC, Moonflower Publishing)

It is the summer of 1669 and England is in dire straits. The treasury’s coffers are bare and tensions with the powerful Dutch Republic are boiling over. And now, an investigator sent by the King to look into corruption at the Royal Navy has been brutally murdered.

Loathe to leave the pleasures of London, Samuel Pepys is sent dragging his feet to Portsmouth to find the truth about what happened. Aided by his faithful assistant, Will Hewer, he soon exposes the killer.

But has he got the right man? The truth may be much more sinister. And if the real plot isn’t uncovered in time, England could be thrown into a war that would have devastating consequences …


Recently finished

The Shimmer on the Water by Marina McCallon (Aria)

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason (Orion)

Learwife by J. R. Thorp (Canongate)

“I am the queen of two crowns, banished fifteen years, the famed and gilded woman, bad-luck baleful girl, mother of three small animals, now gone. I am fifty-five years old. I am Lear’s wife. I am here.”

Word has come. Care-bent King Lear is dead, driven mad and betrayed. His three daughters too, broken in battle. But someone has survived: Lear’s queen. Exiled to a nunnery years ago, written out of history, her name forgotten. Now she can tell her story.

Though her grief and rage may threaten to crack the earth open, she knows she must seek answers. Why was she sent away in shame and disgrace? What has happened to Kent, her oldest friend and ally? And what will become of her now, in this place of women? To find peace she must reckon with her past and make a terrible choice – one upon which her destiny, and that of the entire abbey, rests. (Review to follow)


What Cathy (will) Read Next

The Night ShipThe Night Ship by Jess Kidd (ARC, Canongate via Readers First)

1629. Embarking on a journey in search of her father, a young girl called Mayken boards the Batavia, the most impressive sea vessel of the age. During the long voyage, this curious and resourceful child must find her place in the ship’s busy world, and she soon uncovers shadowy secrets above and below deck. As tensions spiral, the fate of the ship and all on board becomes increasingly uncertain.

1989. Gil, a boy mourning the death of his mother, is placed in the care of his irritable and reclusive grandfather. Their home is a shack on a tiny fishing island off the Australian coast, notable only for its reefs and wrecked boats. This is no place for a teenager struggling with a dark past and Gil’s actions soon get him noticed by the wrong people.

The Night Ship is an enthralling tale of human cruelty, fate and friendship, and of two children, hundreds of years apart, whose fates are inextricably bound together.