Sorrow and Bliss (Meg Mason, Fourth Estate)
Martha is sick. She’s been sick since she was 17 years old, and a cocktail of pills in varying doses has never made a difference to the lows that leave her bedridden for weeks. Her husband, Patrick, has loved her since he was 14. Martha is not a good wife, but Patrick is devoted to her nonetheless. But by the time Martha finally finds out what’s wrong with her, it’s no use. Patrick has gone. Sorrow and Bliss, from Sydney-based writer and journalist Meg Mason, charts the course of their relationship from two awkward teenagers hiding out from family Christmas in London to two adults trying to make it work in the cul-de-sac from hell in Oxford. This is a romance, true, but a real one. It’s modern love up against the confusing, sad aches of mental illness, with all its highs, lows, humour and misery. Comparisons to Sally Rooney will be made, but Mason’s writing is less self-conscious than Rooney’s, and perhaps more mature. Her character work is outstanding, and poignant—the hairline fractures, contradictions and nuances of the middle-class family dynamic are painstakingly rendered with moving familiarity and black humour, resulting in a combination as devastating and sharply witty as Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag.
Georgia Brough is a writer based in Melbourne.