Sorrow and Bliss is one of those books that I’d heard great things about and actually, wonderfully, did live up to all the buzz and accolades. From the first few pages I loved the tone and was totally captivated and emotionally invested by Martha and her story. And that story covers a sensitive topic. It’s all about Martha’s relationship with her mental illness and how that, in turn, affects her relationships with the people in her life.
Opening sentence: At a wedding shortly after our own, I followed Patrick through the dense crowd at the reception to a woman who was standing by herself.
Martha & Ingrid & Patrick
Martha’s family are the people she is closest to. She has a strong bond with her father and sister, Ingrid and a more complex one with her mother. Her aunt, uncle and cousins also play key roles in her life and how she copes with her mental illness and juggles these relationships is what’s explored.
They could not tell that for most of my adult life and all of my marriage I have been trying to become the opposite of myself.
Martha ends up marrying her family friend, Patrick. Poor Patrick, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him. He loves Martha but is often the one dealing with Martha’s (actually unnamed) mental illness. He is her champion in his quiet, steady way and is often overlooked.
‘Martha,’ he said afterwards, lying next to me. ‘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.
Sorrow and bliss moments
As much as the plot, it was the highly relatable incidental moments and sentences scattered through Sorrow and Bliss that really meant it spoke to me (Martha’s views on short stories, her love of the Prince William asking Kate if she wants a drink meme), along with the random facts it taught me – did you know there’s a theory that the Mona Lisa is pregnant or a recent mother in her famous painting?
But, what makes Sorrow and Bliss so special is the way it blends a nuanced and delicate portrayal of depression with a funny, deadpan tone. (See: Martha telling the library she is a missing person to avoid paying a fine.) The phrasing that’s used was so memorable too; Martha’s analysis of her mental frame of mind as ‘brain weather’ was one I particularly liked.
I said I hadn’t known you could chose how to feel instead of being overpowered by an emotion from outside yourself.
I found Sorrow and Bliss to be such a unique and emotional read, especially as revelations happen for Martha and she realises she’s made some life decisions for the wrong reasons. My heart broke for her. She’s such a well crafted character, she felt so real to me by the end.
- Get your copy of Sorrow and Bliss here
- Published by W&N September 2020;
- 352 pages;
- My rating: