Sorrow and Bliss: A BBC Two Between the Covers pick
By Meg Mason
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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.Tweet
Review 1: I found Martha’s voice and perspective captivating, racing through the second half of the book in one sitting. Her story is beautifully and very cleverly told; it only became clear to me towards the end the extent to which her self-absorbed viewpoint had obscured the depth of the other characters. The witty, current tone of the novel provided just enough moments of lightness to help work through the many big issues tackled.
Review 2: I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found that rereading it gave me more time to absorb the range of emotions and family connections that the author portrays. Despite the trauma and loss, there is a great deal of love and snippets of humour to enrich the experience for the reader. Definitely one I will be sharing with friends and family.
Review 3: The themes of mental illness and unconditional family love, and clever references, made it a winner for me. Oh, and the writing too. Fingers crossed for it to win.
Review 4: Would definitely recommend this book to others! Although it took me a little bit to get into it, I was then hooked and really enjoyed it. The writing style and humorous one-liners helped to keep it a lighter read. The debate about a mental health diagnosis versus the stigma of having a label feels very relevant in today’s society.
Review 5: I loved this brilliantly constructed book, especially on the second reading. In spite of her heartbreaking treatment of serious themes -- motherhood, mental health and the struggles of dysfunctional families -- Meg Mason’s humour keeps the novel buoyant if not light. Her cryptic one-liners really did make me laugh out loud. A book to share with others, leading to thought-provoking discussion!
Review 6: This deceptively light novel was a perfect book club selection, eliciting deep discussion about mental illness, family relationships and parenthood. Martha’s (unreliable) narration is a delight, wry and deadpan but also with moments of wrenching emotion. Mason masterfully controls the tone to create something that is witty and poignant all at once.
Review 7: This is a very cleverly constructed story and, whilst eminently readable, Sorrow and Bliss deals with some profound and complex issues. We talked in detail about mental illness, the choice to be a mother (or not), family love and alcoholism, as well as debating Martha’s character in great detail. We always score the books we read, and this novel received one of our highest ever scores. It is of the moment, and would be a worthy winner of the prize.