Monday, May 10, 2021

"Sorrow and Bliss" by Meg Mason

I don't remember where I first heard about "Sorrow and Bliss" by Meg Mason. It may have been when someone suggested it might be a potential read for the Gateway Women book club. We haven't read it there (yet?) but I picked it up myself earlier this month. 

I've heard/read comparisons made between this book and Bridget Jones's Diary, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Sally Rooney's novels -- all of which I've also read. I'd say the comparisons are both vaguely apt and not quite right at the same time. "Sorrow and Bliss" is funny and witty, full of pointed observations and some amazing writing -- but it's also sad (sometimes overwhelmingly so). I felt like there was a dark cloud hanging over (almost) the entire book -- just as a dark cloud perpetually hangs over the life of Martha, our narrator/protagonist.  

As the novel begins, 40-year-old Martha has just broken up with Patrick, her husband of 8 years and friend since they were teenagers, and moved back into her childhood home with her eccentric parents (an alcoholic artist mother and a struggling poet father). The bulk of the novel is an episodic look back on the events and tangled web of relationships that led her to this point in her life.  

Martha describes how a "bomb" went off in her head when she was 17, and how things were never the same afterwards. The "bomb" is never clearly identified (there's an author's note at the end of the book, indicating that Martha's diagnosis, treatment, etc., is entirely fictional), but it's obvious that she's had an almost-lifelong struggle with some form of mental illness.  She longs for a baby -- her uber-fertile sister Ingrid has four (!) -- but a doctor tells her that her diagnosis and medications are not compatible with pregnancy, and so she tells everyone she does not want children. Late in the book, she receives an unexpected new diagnosis, which changes her life. 

The melancholy mood that permeates this novel is lightened/tempered by a  hopeful ending, and a wonderful cast of supporting characters. I particularly loved Martha's father;  her kind, sweet, patient husband Patrick; her hilarious sister Ingrid;  her former boss and kind friend Peregrine; and the wealthy and domineering Aunt Winsome, who bankrolls the entire dysfunctional family and attempts to hold them all together. 

4 stars on Goodreads.  There's a lot to chew on here. Overall, I loved it and would recommend it, but you may find some of it difficult, depending on your frame of mind!  

This was Book #25 read to date in 2021 (and Book #2 finished in May), bringing me to 69% of my 2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 36 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 13 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2021 tagged as "2021 books." 


  1. Cup of Jo, a website I follow, reviewed this book today:

    1. A commenter on this post pointed to an interview with the author on YouTube... watching it now! (It doesn't actually start until about 7 minutes into the video.)

    2. Listening to this interview, I was kind of taken aback when the interviewer expressed surprise and considered it a "twist" at the end that Martha admits she really did want children along. I think that was pretty obvious to me all along?? Maybe it's just because, in the past (when having children was still a biological possibility), I tried to project disinterest in having children as a means of deflecting enquiries about when I was going to have them?? & that wouldn't occur to a fortunately fertile person??

    3. That makes sense! I also used to use the deflection tactics of being horrified at the idea of having children. Other people just can't see nuance!

  2. Sounds like a good read for just the right time. I read a "dark cloud" book last year: All My Puny Sorrows, and it was so good but would probably seem very depressing... It's hard to describe it! Adding this to my list.