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Summary

The Instant Sunday Times Best Seller

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.

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. 

©2021 Meg Mason (P)2021 Orion Publishing Group

Critic reviews

"A brilliantly faceted and extremely funny book that engulfed me in the way I am always hoping to be engulfed by novels. I was making a list of all the people I wanted to send it to, until I realised that I wanted to send it to everyone I know." (Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House)

"A sharply observed, darkly hilarious and merciless portrait of a thoroughly messed-up family. Patrick Melrose meets Fleabag. Brilliant." (Clare Chambers, author of Small Pleasures)

"Jaw-droppingly funny, this is the kind of novel you will want to press into the hands of everyone you know." (Jessie Burton, author of The Confession)

"Completely brilliant, I loved it. I think every girl and woman should read it." (Gillian Anderson)

"A devastating and sharply funny love story." (Observer)

"Both fantastically dark and almost unbearably funny.... Just read it. It's unforgettable." (India Knight, The Sunday Times)

What listeners say about Sorrow and Bliss

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

One of the best novels I've ever listened to

A compelling story of a mental illness killing a marriage, in which the brilliant characters draw you in and keep you going through the vortex of physical and cerebral destruction. I recommend this to people who are looking for clever writing, enjoy a story that has eccentric family members (à la Pursuit of Love), and, in the end, love a love story (despite the cyclonic mental illness).

The author has come up with a really well thought out structure that very cleverly seems like it just all fell into place. The 'book within a book' is a wonderful idea... Rather ingeniously (and Pirandello-ishly), Mason even dares to let one of her characters, Patrick, read almost the entire novel -- even a piece out loud, about something he says near the beginning of the novel, to question whether he had actually said it (you'll understand once it happens).

The text is packed with a glittering array of witty observations of the world we inhabit and human behaviour, and there are many truly funny lines. It's a real pleasure to listen to, which is a strange thing to be able to say since we are also witness to how annihilating clinical depression or a personality disorder (the unnamed illness) can be.

Something I especially appreciated about this book is the author’s humanity — which shines through the protagonist Martha’s bleak view of the world. She may think she's The Best, but she is ashamed of thinking it too, and actually filled with both guilt and humility. She can be so cruel and then so deeply sorry -- but then this is the tragedy of this mental illness.

The overriding theme of parental love, however, is what gives this story its universality -- 'bobbing up' again and again, in ingenious ways sometimes.... For example in scenes from Patrick's motherless childhood -- which are simply heartbreaking. The way Martha is protected and nourished by her father is also extremely moving. Ultimately it is Martha's hopeless anti-maternal mother who picks her up and helps her with the 'baby steps' towards a routine and approaching-normal life.

I’m looking forward to Mason’s next novel — but, because I already miss the characters in this one, I’d love another one filled with them please (I’m a big fan of Ingrid and Fergus and Winsome). Can Mason write a 'sequel' to this, or is there no point? There'll be others like me who wish she could Durrell-ise the extended family. But then I suppose I need to recognise that the story is not really focused on the eccentric extended family.

Finally, Emilia Fox is, as ever, perfect — by far my favourite narrator -- THANK GOD SHE WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK!

PS I fell in love with Patrick..... I hope my daughter finds someone like him one day!

4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Emilia Fox is superb

Emilia Fox brought this beautiful book alive. She had an excellent way of bringing a real depth to the characters. Loved it.

3 people found this helpful

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Exceptionally engaging performance

I was immediately engaged by the story and its characters-particularly due to the very compelling narration by Emilia Fox. The author has a perfect pitch of heartbreaking humour and very fleshed out characters. Achingly middle-class and white, but well written and heartily performed.

1 person found this helpful

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couldn't stop listening

lovely book ,pulls you in and makes you laugh and cry, feel like I really know the characters which is what I want from a good book

1 person found this helpful

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Not funny.

Cannot believe that the critics described this as “jaw-droppingly funny” or “hilarious”. For me, it was agonising to feel what this character and her husband had to live through because of the undiagnosed psychological condition. I just kept going and going through the book to get to what I hoped would be the relief of the conclusion. It was traumatic but well worth it. But I will admit that the sister and batty mother did bring very welcome moments of comic relief. Phew.

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Mixed feelings

Not sure what to make of this tale.

The author has invented an illness that turns the sufferer into pain up the arse which can be cured with one visit to a wonder psychiatrist and cured with one drug.

This seems unrealistic to me and spoilt what is otherwise an enjoyable, sometimes funny, sometimes moving story.