Sorrow and Bliss is the debut novel by Meg Mason, released in December 2020. It was a pick for the BBC Between The Covers tv programme and has received critical acclaim.
After ‘a bomb’ goes off inside her head when she was seventeen, Martha has struggled throughout her adult life. She is a talented writer and she has been loved by her husband Patrick for as long as he has known her. And yet as she turns 40, she realises she is friendless, losing her husband and facing career uncertainty. She suffers from bouts of depression and suspects there is something ‘wrong’ with her, despite numerous doctors and therapists being unable to properly diagnose her. As she reaches this crossroads in her life she realises she has to face her troubles, acknowledge her mental health and attempt to fix the life that seems to be falling apart around her.
I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I’d have picked up this book if it hadn’t been a Between The Covers pick. However, I’m so glad I did!
It initially took me a while to get into this story. I found Martha a frustrating character but the reasons for her erratic behaviour become more clear as the novel progresses.
I loved Patrick, Martha’s husband. What an absolute saint! I loved going back to their youth and reading about how their romance unfolded. I also particularly enjoyed Martha’s relationship with her sister, Ingrid.
I became so invested in Martha’s story and the impact it had on those around her. Despite becoming frustrated with her, as she could be quite self-destructive, I constantly rooted for her. The character was so well developed and my heart ached for the sadness she faced.
The book covers mental health but it’s so much more than that. When Martha finally gets a diagnosis, the condition is never actually named. I actually thought this was really clever. It’s almost irrelevant what the actual condition is. It’s the impact of the illness and the need for answers that are actually more important. The author cleverly makes us think that if we, as readers, feel frustrated about not knowing the condition, imagine the frustration Martha must have felt throughout her life. I also feel by not naming the condition we don’t allow our own preconceptions have an impact on Martha’s story. It also allows us to relate to certain parts of her condition and identify with her struggles.
There were moments of great sadness throughout the book but there were also some really witty moments. I loved the dry, dark humour, particularly the interactions between Martha and Ingrid.
Although this is a story about mental health, it’s also a story of love, redemption and family.
I loved it.
This book was featured in Sara Cox’s BBC Between the Covers tv book club. To see more books chosen for the show, you can read my Between the Covers Book Club list.
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