Summary and book reviews of Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

Sorrow and Bliss

by Meg Mason

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason X
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Feb 2021, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Grace Graham-Taylor
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Book Summary

A compulsively readable debut novel - spiky, sharp, intriguingly dark, and tender - about a woman on the edge that combines the psychological insight of Sally Rooney with the sharp humor of Nina Stibbe and the emotional resonance of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

Martha Friel just turned forty. Once, she worked at Vogue and planned to write a novel. Now, she creates internet content. She used to live in a pied-à-terre in Paris. Now she lives in a gated community in Oxford, the only person she knows without a PhD, a baby or both, in a house she hates but cannot bear to leave. But she must leave, now that her husband Patrick—the kind who cooks, throws her birthday parties, who loves her and has only ever wanted her to be happy—has just moved out.

Because there's something wrong with Martha, and has been for a long time. When she was seventeen, a little bomb went off in her brain and she was never the same. But countless doctors, endless therapy, every kind of drug later, she still doesn't know what's wrong, why she spends days unable to get out of bed or alienates both strangers and her loved ones with casually cruel remarks.

And she has nowhere to go except her childhood home: a bohemian (dilapidated) townhouse in a romantic (rundown) part of London—to live with her mother, a minorly important sculptor (and major drinker) and her father, a famous poet (though unpublished) and try to survive without the devoted, potty-mouthed sister who made all the chaos bearable back then, and is now too busy or too fed up to deal with her.

But maybe, by starting over, Martha will get to write a better ending for herself—and she'll find out that she's not quite finished after all.

1

AT A WEDDING shortly after our own, I followed Patrick through the dense crowd at the reception to a woman who was standing by herself.

He said that instead of looking at her every five minutes and feeling sad I should just go over and compliment her hat.

"Even if I don't like it?"

He said obviously, Martha. "You don't like anything. Come on."

The woman had accepted a canapé from a waiter and was putting it in her mouth when she noticed us, realizing in the same instant that it could not be managed in one bite. As we approached, she lowered her chin and tried to shield her effort to get it all the way in, then all the way out, with the empty glass and supply of cocktail napkins in her other hand. Although Patrick drew out his introduction, she responded with something neither of us could make out. Because she looked so embarrassed, I began speaking as though somebody had given me one minute on the topic of ladies' hats.

The woman gave a series of little nods and then as ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Whilst the book's content is not exactly ground-breaking, its sharp comedy makes it feel fresh. The author also draws striking attention to the delicate, transitory details of everyday life — Martha appreciates, for example, the way a passing cloud makes the light flicker on her sister's face, and the way the veins in her husband's hands bulge as he grips the steering wheel. The precision of Mason's description elevates otherwise mundane scenes into something that feels extraordinary. Sorrow and Bliss touches on many issues surrounding mental illness: its heritability, its destructive effects and the potentially disastrous consequences of misdiagnosis. Mason explores the suppression of past mental illness within families, and the damage and misunderstanding this can cause as the same problems ravage successive generations...continued

Full Review Members Only (762 words).

(Reviewed by Grace Graham-Taylor).

Media Reviews

Shelf Awareness (starred review)
Meg Mason's unflagging comic impulses drive this novel about the havoc a woman's mental illness wreaks on her marriage.

The Guardian
An incredibly funny and devastating debut...enlivened, often, by a madcap energy. Yet it still manages to be sensitive and heartfelt, and to offer a nuanced portrayal of what it means to try to make amends and change, even when that involves 'start[ing] again from nothing.'

Kirkus Reviews
While some readers may lose patience with Martha and her narrow world and will wonder why the author has chosen the structure of a romance to deal with Martha's difficulties, Mason brings the reader into a deep understanding of Martha's experience without either condescending to her or letting her off too easily...An astute depiction of life on the psychic edge.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
English writer Mason excels in her heartbreaking U.S. debut, an account of a woman's self-discovery amid her struggle with mental illness...Martha's anecdotes, simultaneously funny and sad, are stacked with observations that alternate between brutally cutting...and aching...Witty and stark, Martha's emotionally affecting story will delight fans of Sally Rooney.

Booklist (starred review)
Exploring the multifaceted hardships of mental illness and the frustrating inaccuracy of diagnoses, medications, and treatments, Sorrow and Bliss is darkly comic and deeply heartfelt...Martha's voice is acerbic, witty, and raw.

Author Blurb Amanda Eyre Ward, New York Times bestselling author of The Jetsetters
Sorrow and Bliss is hilarious, haunting, and utterly captivating. Meg Mason has created a heroine as prickly as Bernadette in Where'd You Go, Bernadette. Her humor is as arch and wise as the best work of Joan Didion and Rachel Cusk, yet completely original. What a thrilling new voice!

Author Blurb Mary Beth Keane, New York Times bestselling author of Ask Again, Yes
Brutal, tender, funny, this novel—a portrait of love in all of its many incarnations—came alive for me from the very first page. I saw myself here. I saw the people I love. I am changed by this book.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett
While I was reading it, I was making a list of all the people I wanted to send it to, until I realized that I wanted to send it to everyone I know.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Boarding School Syndrome

Eton College quad In Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, which explores psychological wounds and mental illness, Martha's husband Patrick was sent to boarding school at a young age. The image of boarding schools is deeply embedded in the British psyche. Writers from Enid Blyton to James Joyce have found these strange micro-societies to be rich earth. In fiction, they offer the chance to explore isolation, oppression and hierarchy from a childlike perspective. But what happens when children who begin their lives in such environments, having been separated from their families and placed in a highly regulated atmosphere, grow up?

According to some psychotherapists, negative effects of boarding school can be long-lasting, even permanently damaging. The ...

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