By Meg Mason
I’m unfamiliar with Meg Mason’s previous books, but Sorrow and Bliss is an enlightening and enigmatic read. Poignant, haunting and elusive, the main character, Martha is both endearing and tragic — she’s quite like the illness we suspect she has— but either she doesn’t admit it, or know the specifics. ( There are plenty of hints and speculation.)
Her husband —and I admit — her long-suffering husband, is beautifully written. Patrick is supportive and nurturing and the fact that he’s loved Martha since they were teenagers is a romance I’m particularly drawn to. He stands by and watches Martha laugh, cry, marry, despair, divorce —and through it all, he is as resolute as a rock. She doesn’t want children. That’s fine he says. I don’t care…I just want you to be happy. The family relationships entwine and fight and divide as families often do, at times. They are dysfunctional, each member slightly damaged. But I loved Martha's aunt. She’s a fabulous character and sympathetically depicted.
You’ll love Martha and dislike her, cringe at her self-obsession and her seemingly callous behaviour. But she makes you laugh more often than cry. The narrative is absorbing, captivating — it’s like nothing I have read before. I’m not convinced I loved it — at times I was concerned that the melancholic tone might be too much and had to put it down. But when I picked it up again, Meg Mason had slotted in just the right place a comical scene, or a vision of Martha extolling the virtues or foibles of another, or a snappy piece of dialogue, to keep the pace and march the reader through. It’s clever, witty, and I’d read it all again. The highs definitely outweigh the lows. And the narrative in regards to structure and composition is a fabulous device.
"An observer to my marriage would think I have made no effort to be a good or better wife. Or, seeing me that night, that I must have set out to be this way and achieved it after years of concentrated effort. They could not tell that for most of my adult life and all of my marriage I have been trying to become the opposite of myself."
The title, Sorrow and Bliss sums this up perfectly. This is a tragic but also amusing insight into the delicate balance of life — and of coming to terms with living with, or loving a sufferer of, depression and mental illness.
Thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.