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Book Review: Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

Sorrow and Bliss is a book that everyone seemed to read last year, I bought it myself when it was released, I’ve only just read it….this is just who I am, I buy books then ignore them for months.

It’s quite a hard novel to sum up, I finished it over a week ago and thinking back over it, I have, much like the title, extreme feelings about it. If it turns out that’s what Meg Mason intended all along then, fair play, she’s delivered.

From the back….

Everyone tells Martha Friel she is clever and beautiful, a brilliant writer who has been loved every day of her adult life by one man, her husband Patrick. A gift, her mother once said, not everybody gets.

So why is everything broken? Why is Martha – on the edge of 40 – friendless, practically jobless and so often sad? And why did Patrick decide to leave?

Maybe she is just too sensitive, someone who finds it harder to be alive than
most people. Or maybe – as she has long believed – there is something wrong with her. Something that broke when a little bomb went off in her brain, at 17, and left her changed in a way that no doctor or therapist has ever been able to explain.

Forced to return to her childhood home to live with her dysfunctional, bohemian parents (but without the help of her devoted, foul-mouthed sister Ingrid), Martha has one last chance to find out whether a life is ever too broken to fix – or whether, maybe, by starting over, she will get to write a better ending for herself.

What worked….

I loved Martha. I really loved her. I loved her when she was at her worst, she was brutal, she could be tender, she was funny.

In fact, I loved all the characters. 

I loved the tenderness her father showed her, I loved the loyalty between her and Ingrid. They may have been a dysfunctional family (aren’t they all) but there was love between them, it was genuine and moving.

Martha had been loved all her adult life, not just by Patrick but by so many people. People who all think she is quite brilliant.

I enjoyed the examination of how Martha’s mental health impacted her relationships, how self-destructive she could be. Mason didn’t shy away from showing how hard Martha’s illness was for those closest to her, especially when she was intent on pushing people away.

I loved how it was written, it was raw and filled with moments that made me laugh – it’s a book that really does what it says on the tin, it’s all about Sorrow and Bliss and I applaud it for that.

But I do have a fairly massive problem with it, there’s a huge plot point that just didn’t work…

I think this novel missed a trick.

Martha’s diagnosis is never named it’s always referred to as [ __ ].

The note at the end of the book states that the medical symptoms described in this book are not consistent with a genuine mental illness and I don’t get why.

There is enough research and a lot of people willing to share their experiences. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t use a genuine mental illness; I don’t know why you wouldn’t discuss it fully.

I ‘m assuming not naming Martha’s diagnosis is something to do with not making a big deal of a label. It’s saying that it’s more important for Martha to know who she is. 

I get that; however, I just feel it was a bit of cop out. 

I think most people will draw the same conclusion as me, that Martha had been diagnosed with bipolar. If that is the case, name it. Use and describe the actual symptoms. Surely that would be more useful, surely that goes some way towards ending stigma.

When it became clear that Martha’s diagnosis wasn’t going to be named, the book felt as though it was meandering along with not much point to it, and it started to lose me unfortunately.

I can’t slam Sorrow and Bliss completely, I did enjoy it in parts, there were parts I couldn’t get enough of it just missed the mark for me.

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

15 thoughts on “Book Review: Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason Leave a comment

  1. I really enjoyed your review Sarah. The book sounds very intriguing and it’s interesting that Martha didn’t fit one of the defined disorders. I’d love to know why the author chose this for this character as there is likely a reason. Thanks for sharing!


    • I just found it weird. The character was told what she had but the author never named. I can’t get on board with the fact that what the novel described was pretty much plucked out of thin air, I don’t think it’s very helpful


  2. I actually haven’t heard of this book, but it does sound interesting. It’s great to hear that you loved all the characters, but I do understand your point that not naming Martha’s diagnosis is a problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I hadn’t heard of this book but it sounds very interesting, Martha and Ingrid both sound like great characters! As you said though, not naming the illness doesn’t work out much as far as not labelling it. I think it could have been more representative to people that suffer that illness and find themselves represented which would have helped.

    Liked by 1 person

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