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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I told him, once, that I was always the last one picked up from birthday parties. So late, the mother would say, I wonder if I should give your parents a ring. Replacing the receiver after a period of minutes, she would tell me not to worry, we could try again later. I became part of the tidying up, then the family supper, leftover cake. It was, I told Patrick, excruciating. At my own parties, my mother drank.

He stretched, pretending to limber up. "Every single birthday party I had between the ages of seven and eighteen was at school. Thrown by Master. The cake came from the drama department prop cupboard. It was plaster of Paris." He said, good game though.

* * *

Mostly, Ingrid rings me when she is driving somewhere with the children because, she says, she can only talk properly when everyone is restrained and, in a perfect world, asleep; the car is basically a giant pram at this point. A while ago, she called to tell me she had just met a woman at the park who said she and her husband had separated and now had half-half custody of their children. The handover took place on Sunday mornings, the woman told her, so they both had one weekend day each on their own. She had started going to the cinema by herself on Saturday nights and had recently discovered that her ex-husband goes by himself on Sunday nights. Often it turns out they have chosen to see the same film. Ingrid said the last time it was X-Men: First Class. "Martha, literally have you ever heard anything more depressing? It's like, just go the fuck together. You will both be dead soon."

Throughout childhood our parents would separate on a roughly biannual basis. It was always anticipated by a shift in atmosphere that would occur usually overnight and even if Ingrid and I never knew why it had happened, we knew instinctively that it was not wise to speak above a whisper or ask for anything or tread on the floorboards that made a noise, until our father had put his clothes and typewriter into a laundry basket and moved into the Hotel Olympia, a bed and breakfast at the end of our road.

My mother would start spending all day and all night in her repurposing shed at the end of the garden, while Ingrid and I stayed in the house by ourselves. The first night, Ingrid would drag her bedding into my room and we would lie listening to the sound of metal tools being dropped on the concrete floor and the whining, discordant folk music our mother worked to, carrying in through our open window.

During the day she would sleep on the brown sofa that Ingrid and I had been asked to carry out for that purpose. And despite a permanent sign on the door that said "GIRLS: before knocking, ask self—is something on fire?," before school I would go in and collect dirty plates and mugs and, more and more, empty bottles so that Ingrid wouldn't see them. For a long time, I thought it was because I was so quiet that my mother did not wake up.

I do not remember if we were scared, if we thought this time it was real, our father was not coming back, and we would naturally acquire phrases like "my mum's boyfriend" and "I left it at my dad's," using them as easily as classmates who claimed to love having two Christmases. Neither of us confessed to being worried. We just waited. As we got older, we began to refer to them as The Leavings.

Eventually our mother would send one of us down to the hotel to get him because, she said, this whole thing was bloody ridiculous even though, invariably, it would have been her idea. Once my father got back, she would kiss him up against the sink, my sister and I watching, mortified, as her hand found its way up the back of his shirt. Afterwards it wouldn't be referred to except jokingly. And then there would be a party.

* * *

All of Patrick's sweaters have holes in the elbows, even ones that aren't very old. One side of his collar is always inside the neck, the other side over it and, despite constant retucking, an edge of shirt always finds its way out at the back. Three days after he has a haircut, he needs a haircut. He has the most beautiful hands I have ever seen.

* * *

Apart from her recurrent throwing-out of our father, parties were our mother's chief contribution to our domestic life, the thing that made us so willing to forgive her inadequacies compared to what we knew of other people's mothers. They overflowed the house, bled from Friday nights into Sunday mornings, and were populated by what our mother described as West London's artistic elite, though the only credential for getting in seemed to be a vague association with the arts, a tolerance for marijuana smoke, and/or possession of a musical instrument.

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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