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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2021, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2022, 352 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Grace Graham-Taylor
Buy This Book

About this Book

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London—to live with her mother, a minorly important sculptor (and major drinker) and her father, a famous poet (though unpublished) and try to survive without the devoted, potty-mouthed sister who made all the chaos bearable back then, and is now too busy or too fed up to deal with her.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 ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

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 (762 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(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.

People
Improbably charming...will have you chortling and reading lines aloud.

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.'

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

Reader Reviews

Ganges Knud

Wasted ears
Self pitying self absorbed rich white people? Yuck!

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

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 ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Read-alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Sorrow and Bliss, try these:

  • The Most Precious Substance on Earth jacket

    The Most Precious Substance on Earth

    by Shashi Bhat

    Published 2022

    About this book

    Journey Prize winner Shashi Bhat's sharp, darkly comic, and poignant story about a high school student's traumatic experience and how it irrevocably alters her life, for fans of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, Girlhood, and Pen15.

  • Detransition, Baby jacket

    Detransition, Baby

    by Torrey Peters

    Published 2021

    About this book

    Reese almost had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York City, a job she didn't hate. She had scraped together what previous generations of trans women could only dream of: a life of mundane, bourgeois comforts. The only thing missing was a child.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search read-alikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Big Red
    Big Red
    by Jerome Charyn
    Jerome Charyn made his name as an author of detective novels, and over the years he has taken his ...
  • Book Jacket: If I Survive You
    If I Survive You
    by Jonathan Escoffery
    In If I Survive You, author Jonathan Escoffery portrays a family falling apart with grace. Main ...
  • Book Jacket: Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
    by Sidik Fofana
    'Everybody got a story, everybody got a tale / Question is: Is it despair or prevail?' ...
  • Book Jacket: Fire Season
    Fire Season
    by Leyna Krow
    Fire Season is a thoroughly enjoyable novel that touches upon multiple genres and themes. It ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Natural History
    by Andrea Barrett

    A masterful new collection of interconnected stories, from the renowned National Book Award–winning author.

Book Club Giveaway!
Win A Minor Chorus

A Minor Chorus

A debut novel from a rising literary star that brings the modern queer and Indigenous experience into sharp relief.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Y Can't G H A

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.