If you haven't heard of Meg Mason, you probably should have. Meg is a very talented writer who begun her career writing for The Times and Financial Times. Her work has been featured in some of the most popular and respected publications out there including The Sunday Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sunday Telegraph, The New Yorker, Sunday STYLE, Vogue, Marie Claire and ELLE. Meg even had her own column for five years at GQ! And she doesn't stop at journalism. Meg has now published three books: the first, a memoir of early motherhood entitled 'Say It Again In A Nice Voice' (2012), the second a novel called 'You Be Mother' (2017) and finally, her most recent book, 'Sorrow and Bliss' (2021).
Sorrow and Bliss is the novel we've chosen to read and review this month. It's a fictional story about a very real issue: mental illness. The story follows Martha, a middle-aged woman who is struggling with long-term mental illness and all the challenges that accompany it, including maintaining a healthy, happy marriage.
Everyone tells Martha Friel she is clever and beautiful, a brilliant writer who has been loved every single 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.
Our Favourite Quote:
"Everything is broken and messed up and completely fine. That is what life is. It's only the ratios that change, usually on their own."
Or...alternatively, for comedic value:
"Martha, why did you label every single box Miscellaneous?"
We're giving this book a 4/5. We may sound generous but that's because we tend to only share books with you that we think are 100% worth reading.
This book is thought provoking and entertaining: a balance which is very hard to strike. Moments of this novel feel heartbreakingly sad and extremely real, and yet, others are filled with laughs and smiles. Mason shows us what it's like to live inside the head of someone with severe mental illness, without making you feel like you are reading a book about mental illness.
Martha is an expertly crafted character, with her own quirks, beliefs and opinions. Mason conjures sympathy for Martha when and where it is needed, but isn't scared to highlight her flaws, steering well away from the mentally unwell "victim" stereotype. At times, it feels hard to empathise with Martha due to her behaviour - a reality for many who have loved ones that struggle with mental health. We feel Mason strikes a good balance between studying the difficulties and complexities of mental illness for both the sufferer and, on the contrasting side, their loved ones.
This novel felt honest and realistic and played cleverly with the theme of stigma. We enjoyed every single page.