Excerpt from Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Sorrow and Bliss

by Meg Mason

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason X
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2021, 352 pages

    Mar 2022, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Grace Graham-Taylor
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

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 next morning I told Patrick I was sorry for all of it. He had made coffee and carried it out to the living room but hadn't touched it when I came into the room. He was sitting at one end of the sofa. I sat down and folded my legs underneath me. Facing him, the posture felt beseeching and I put one foot back on the floor.

"I don't mean to be like this." I made myself put my hand on his. It was the first time I had touched him on purpose in five months. "Patrick, honestly, I can't help it."

"And yet somehow you manage to be so nice to your sister." He shook my hand off and said he was going out to buy a newspaper. He didn't come back for five hours.

I am still forty. It is the end of winter, 2018, no longer the year of the Negroni. Patrick left two days after the party.


MY FATHER IS a poet called Fergus Russell. His first poem was published in The New Yorker when he was nineteen. It was about a bird, the dying variety. After it came out, someone called him a male Sylvia Plath. He got a notable advance on his first anthology. My mother, who was his girlfriend then, is purported to have said, "Do we need a male Sylvia Plath?" She denies it but it is in the family script. No one gets to revise it after it is written. It was also the last poem my father ever published. He says she hexed him. She denies that too. The anthology remains forthcoming. I don't know what happened to the money.

My mother is the sculptor Celia Barry. She makes birds, the menacing, oversized variety, out of repurposed materials. Rake heads, appliance motors, things from the house. Once, at one of her shows, Patrick said, "I honestly think your mother has never met extant physical matter she couldn't repurpose." He was not being unkind. Very little in my parents' home functions according to its original remit.

Growing up, whenever my sister and I overheard her say to someone "I am a sculptor," Ingrid would mouth the line from that Elton John song. I would start laughing and she would keep going with her eyes closed and her fists pressed against her chest until I had to leave the room. It has never stopped being funny.

According to The Times my mother is minorly important. Patrick and I were at the house helping my father rearrange his study the day the notice appeared. She read it aloud to the three of us, laughing unhappily at the minorly bit. Afterwards my father said he'd take any degree of importance at this stage. "And they've given you a definite article. The sculptor Celia Barry. Spare a thought for we the indefinites."

* * *

Sometimes Ingrid gets one of her children to ring and talk to me on the phone because, she says, she wants them to have a very close relationship with me, and also it gets them off her balls for literally five seconds. Once, her eldest son called and told me there was a fat lady at the post office and his favorite cheese is the one that comes in the bag and is sort of whitish. Ingrid texted me later and said, "He means cheddar."

I do not know when he will stop calling me Marfa. I hope never.

* * *

Our parents still live in the house we grew up in, on Goldhawk Road in Shepherd's Bush. They bought it the year I turned ten with a deposit lent to them by my mother's sister Winsome, who married money instead of a male Sylvia Plath. As children, they lived in a flat above a key-cutting shop in, my mother tells people, "a depressed seaside town, with a depressed seaside mother." Winsome is older by seven years. When their mother died suddenly of an indeterminate kind of cancer and their father lost interest in things, in particular them, Winsome withdrew from the Royal College of Music to come back and look after my mother, who was thirteen then. She has never had a career. My mother is minorly important.

* * *

It was Winsome who found the Goldhawk Road house and arranged for my parents to pay much less for it than it was worth, because it was a deceased estate and, my mother said, based on the whiff, the body was still somewhere under the carpet.

Excerpted from Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. Copyright © 2021 by Meg Mason. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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