‘Sorrow and Bliss’ by Meg Mason – A Charming and Amusing Novel about Crushing Depression Issues

 

‘Sorrow and Bliss’ by Meg Mason (2021) – 337 pages

 

The title ‘Sorrow and Bliss’ suggests that this is an emotional roller coaster of a novel, and that it is. However the novel maintains a wry droll tone throughout.

First, we have our first person narrator, Martha.

Unless I inform you otherwise, at intervals throughout my twenties and most of my thirties, I was depressed mildly, moderately, severely, for a week, two weeks, half a year, all of one.”

Martha has had rather a bohemian London upbringing with a poet father and an aspiring sculptor mother. Here is her mother talking:

…but all I’ve been trying to do, all these years, is take rubbish and turn it into something beautiful and much stronger than it was before. I’m sorry if that’s a bloody metaphor for everything.”

Martha also has a close best-friend relationship with her sister Ingrid. The family is financially supported by their well-to-do aunt Winsome (“win some, lose some”) and uncle Rowland.

Then we have the boy Patrick who is a friend of the family and has been “always just there” since Martha was 13.

Martha has an early short unfortunate marriage to Jonathan. As her cousin tells her afterwards,

I wish marrying a total fuckwit was the worst life-choice I’d ever made.”

Sometimes Martha is really funny. By avoiding all the stultifying analytic terminology usually associated with mental illness, our author presents us with a real emotional human being in Martha who is dealing or not dealing with her mental problems. Despite her manifest psychological issues, Martha manages to be both charming and witty as the narrator of this novel.

That I’m not good at being a person. I seem to find it more difficult to be alive than other people.”

Both medical and mental diagnoses make a person’s private situation seem all so cut-and-dried, so well-defined and predictable. One forgets that under that short phrase of a diagnosis there is still a real human being struggling with whatever problems their crushing condition creates.

When Martha notices that the female marriage counselor she has been seeing is no longer wearing her wedding ring, Martha stops going because “It’s like having a fat personal trainer”.

I hope that I have conveyed my pleasure in reading the sentences in ‘Bliss and Sorrow’ by the quotes that I have included.

Martha’s story takes a very dark turn as stories about people with severe mental problems tend to do. However Meg Mason maintains this wry deadpan tone throughout ‘Sorrow and Bliss’, a major accomplishment.

 

Grade:   A

 

 

 

7 responses to this post.

  1. This sounds nicely dry. Definitely interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

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  2. I don’t think this one is for me. I don’t want to read novels ‘about’ having a mental illness, I want to read novels that are about something else while featuring someone having a mental illness. Like Isabelle of the Moon and Stars, for instance, which was a terrific book.

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Hi Lisa,
      I’m getting a very good picture of the type of novels you avoid, novels about writers who are writing novels, novels about people who are dealing or not dealing with their own problems due to mental illness and the like. You like novels that explore that Big World outside of themselves.

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      Reply

      • Indeed I do! This puts me out of step with a lot of what’s being published right now, but I am not alone, there’s a bookseller near me who won’t stock it, she says her customers can’t stand any more of it and won’t buy it.

        Liked by 1 person

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  3. This has been a big hit in Australia, where the author resides, and it’s now getting lots of attention in the UK and US which is great, but I’ve read soooooo many of these kinds of stories recently (about young women wrestling with all kinds of issues) that I need a bit of a break before trying this one. There was an interesting interview with the author the other day that you might be interested in reading: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/jun/11/meg-mason-sorrow-and-bliss-was-a-post-hope-project-i-was-convinced-that-no-one-would-ever-see-it

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Kim,
      ‘Sorrow and Bliss’ is kind of an exception. It is not solipsistic or self-obsessed at all, quite humorous. She has got this condition which she refuses to name so we don’t get all that analytical categorizing jargon and what we are left with is someone who is trying to live their life as best they can.
      I had already seen the Guardian article; the Guardian is one of my main guides now.

      Liked by 1 person

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