One of our recommended books is Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason


The internationally bestselling, compulsively readable novel—spiky, sharp, intriguingly dark, and tender—that combines the psychological insight of Sally Rooney with the sharp humor of Nina Stibbe and the emotional resonance of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

Martha Friel just turned forty. She used to work at Vogue and was going to write a novel. Now, she creates internet content for no one. She used to live in Paris. Now, she lives in a gated community in Oxford that she hates and can’t bear to leave. But she must now that her loving husband Patrick has just left.

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The internationally bestselling, compulsively readable novel—spiky, sharp, intriguingly dark, and tender—that combines the psychological insight of Sally Rooney with the sharp humor of Nina Stibbe and the emotional resonance of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

Martha Friel just turned forty. She used to work at Vogue and was going to write a novel. Now, she creates internet content for no one. She used to live in Paris. Now, she lives in a gated community in Oxford that she hates and can’t bear to leave. But she must now that her loving husband Patrick has just left.

Because there’s something wrong with Martha. There has been since a little bomb went off in her brain, at seventeen, leaving her changed in a way no doctor or drug could fix then and no one, even now, can explain—why can say she is so often sad, cruel to everyone she loves, why she finds it harder to be alive than other people.

With Patrick gone, the only place Martha has left to go is her childhood home, to live with her chaotic parents, to survive without Ingrid, the sister who made their growing-up bearable, who said she would never give up on Martha, and who finally has.

It feels like the end but maybe, by going back, Martha will get to start again. Maybe there is a different story to be written, if Martha can work out where to begin.

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  • Harper Perennial
  • Paperback
  • March 2022
  • 352 Pages
  • 9780063049598

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About Meg Mason

Meg Mason is the author of Sorrow and BlissMeg Mason began her career at the Financial Times and The Times of London. Her work has since appeared in The Sunday Times UK, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sunday Telegraph. She has written humour for Sunday STYLE magazine and The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts and been a regular columnist for GQ and contributor to ELLE, marie claire and Vogue. Her first novel You Be Mother was published in 2017. It was followed by Sorrow and Bliss, first released in Australia in 2020, then published in the US in February 2021 and out in the UK in June 2021. The studio, New Regency, is adapting Sorrow and Bliss for screen. 

Author Website



Winner of the Book of the Year (Fiction) at the British Book Awards
Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction

Sorrow and Bliss is a brilliantly faceted and extremely funny book about depression that engulfed me in the way I’m always hoping to be engulfed by novels. While I was reading it, I was making a list of all the people I wanted to send it to, until I realized that I wanted to send it to everyone I know.”Ann Patchett

“Completely brilliant, I loved it. I think every girl and woman should read it.”Gillian Anderson

“An incredibly funny and devastating debut. . . . enlivened, often, by a madcap energy. Yet it still manages to be sensitive and heartfelt, and to offer a nuanced portrayal of what it means to try to make amends and change, even when that involves ‘start[ing] again from nothing.'”The Guardian

“Mason excels in her heartbreaking U.S. debut, an account of a woman’s self-discovery amid her struggle with mental illness. . . . Witty and stark, Martha’s emotionally affecting story will delight fans of Sally Rooney.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Exploring the multifaceted hardships of mental illness and the frustrating inaccuracy of diagnoses, medications, and treatments, Sorrow and Bliss is darkly comic and deeply heartfelt . . . Martha’s voice is acerbic, witty, and raw.”Booklist (starred review)

“Meg Mason’s unflagging comic impulses drive this novel about the havoc a woman’s mental illness wreaks on her marriage.”Shelf Awareness (starred review)

Sorrow and Bliss is a thing of beauty.  Astute observations on marriage, motherhood, family, and mental illness are threaded through a story that is by turns devastating and restorative. Every sentence rings true. I will be telling everyone I love to read this book.” — Sara Collins, Costa First Novel Award-winning author of The Confessions of Frannie Langton 




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.

He said that instead of looking at her every five minutes and feeling sad I should just go over and compliment her hat.

“Even if I don’t like it?”

He said obviously, Martha. “You don’t like anything. Come on.”

The woman had accepted a canapé from a waiter and was putting it in her mouth when she noticed us, realizing in the same instant that it could not be managed in one bite. As we approached, she lowered her chin and tried to shield her effort to get it all the way in, then all the way out, with the empty glass and supply of cocktail napkins in her other hand. Although Patrick drew out his introduction, she responded with something neither of us could make out. Because she looked so embarrassed, I began speaking as though somebody had given me one minute on the topic of ladies’ hats.

The woman gave a series of little nods and then as soon as she could, asked us where we lived and what we did with ourselves and, if she was correct in thinking we were married, how long had we been and how was it we’d come to know each other in the first place, the quantity and velocity of her questions meant to divert attention from the half-eaten thing now sitting on an oily napkin in her upturned palm. While I was answering, she looked furtively past me for somewhere to put it; when I had finished, she said she might have missed my meaning, in saying Patrick and I had never actually met, he was “always just there.”

I turned to consider my husband, at that moment trying to fish an invisible object out of his glass with one finger, then looked back at the woman and said Patrick’s sort of like the sofa that was in your house growing up. “Its existence was just a fact. You never wondered where it came from because you can’t remember it not being there.”

“Although I suppose,” I went on because the woman didn’t move to say anything, “if pressed, you would be able to list every single one of its imperfections. And the causes thereof.”

Patrick said it was unfortunately true. “Martha could definitely give you an inventory of my flaws.”

The woman laughed, then glanced briefly at the handbag hanging from her forearm by its little strap, as if weighing its merits as a receptacle.

“Right, who needs a top-up?” Patrick pointed both index fingers at me and pumped invisible triggers with his thumbs. “Martha, I know you won’t say no.” He gestured at the woman’s glass and she let him take it. Then he said, “Would you like me to take that too?” She smiled and looked like she was about to cry as he relieved her of the canapé.

Once he had gone she said, “You must feel so lucky, being married to a man like that.” I said yes and thought about explaining the drawbacks of being married to somebody who everybody thinks is nice, but instead I asked her where she got her amazing hat and waited for Patrick to come back.

The sofa became our stock answer to the question of how we met. We did it for eight years, with few variations. People always laughed.

* * *

There is a GIF called “Prince William asking Kate if she wants another drink.” My sister texted it to me once. She said “I am crying!!!!” They are at some kind of reception. William is wearing a tuxedo. He waves at Kate across the room, mimes the upending of a glass, then points at her with one finger.

“The pointing thing,” my sister said. “Literally Patrick tho.”

I wrote back, “Figuratively Patrick tho.”

She sent me the eye-roll emoji, the champagne flute, and the pointing finger.

The day I moved back in with my parents, I found it again. I have watched it 5,000 times.

* * *

My sister’s name is Ingrid. She is fifteen months younger than me and married to a man she met by falling over in front of his house while he was putting his recycling bins out. She is pregnant with her fourth child; when she texted to say it was another boy, she sent the eggplant emoji, the cherries, and the open scissors. She said “Hamish is non-figuratively getting the snip.”

Growing up, people thought we were twins. We were desperate to dress alike, but our mother said no. Ingrid said, “Why can’t we?”

“Because people will think it’s my idea.” She looked around the room we were in at the time. “None of this was my idea.”

Later, when we were both in the grip of puberty, our mother said that since Ingrid was evidently getting all the bust, we could only hope I’d end up with the brains. We asked her which was better. She said it was better to have both or neither; one without the other was invariably lethal.

My sister and I still look alike. Our jaws are similarly too square but according to our mother we somehow get away with it. Our hair has the same tendency towards stragglyness, has generally always been long, and was the same blondish color until I turned thirty-nine and realized in the morning that I could not stop forty from coming. In the afternoon, I got it cut to too-square jaw-length, then went home and bleached it with supermarket dye. Ingrid came over while I was doing it and used the rest. Both of us struggled with its upkeep. Ingrid said it would have been less work just to have another baby.

I have known since I was young that, although we are so similar, people think Ingrid is more beautiful than I am. I told my father once. He said, “They might look at her first. But they’ll want to look at you for longer.”

* * *

In the car on the way home from the last party Patrick and I went to, I said, “When you do that pointing thing it makes me want to shoot you with an actual gun.” My voice was dry and mean and I hated it—and Patrick when he said, “Great, thanks” with no emotion at all.

“I don’t mean in the face. More like a warning shot in the knee or somewhere that you could still go to work.”

He said good to know and put our address into Google Maps.

We had lived in the same house in Oxford for seven years. I pointed that out. He didn’t say anything and I looked across at him in the driver’s seat, waiting calmly for a break in the traffic. “Now you’re doing the jaw thing.”

“I know what, Martha. How about we don’t talk until we get home.” He took his phone out of the bracket and closed it silently into the glove box.

I said something else, then leaned forward and put the heater on to its highest setting. As soon as the car became stifling, I turned it off and lowered my window all the way. It was crusted with ice and made a scraping noise as it went down.

It used to be a joke between us, that in everything I swing between extremes and he lives his entire life on the middle setting. Before I got out, I said, “That orange light is still on.” Patrick told me he was planning to get oil the next day, turned off the car, and went into the house without waiting for me.

* * *

We took the house on a temporary lease, in case things didn’t work out and I wanted to go back to London. Patrick had suggested Oxford because it is where he went to university and he thought that, compared to other places, commuter towns in the home counties, I might find it easier to make friends. We extended the lease by six months, fourteen times, as though things could not work out at any moment.

The letting agent told us it was an Executive Home, in an Executive Development, and therefore perfect for us—even though neither of us are executives. One of us is a specialist in intensive care. One of us writes a funny food column for Waitrose magazine and has googled “Kate Moss rehab which one?” while her husband is at work.

In physical terms, the Executive nature of it manifested as expanses of taupe carpet and a multitude of non-standard sockets and, to me, as a permanent sense of unease whenever I was there alone. A box room on the top floor was the only room that did not make me feel like there was someone behind me because it was small and there was a plane tree out the window. In summer it obscured the view of identical Executive Homes on the other side of the cul-de-sac. In autumn, dead leaves blew inside and mitigated the carpet. The box room was where I worked even though, as I was often reminded by strangers in social settings, writing is something I can do anywhere.

The editor of my funny food column would send me notes saying “not getting this ref” and “rephrase if poss.” He used Track Changes. I pressed Accept, Accept, Accept. After he had taken out all the jokes, it was just a food column. According to LinkedIn, my editor was born in 1995.

* * *

The party we were coming home from was for my fortieth birthday. Patrick planned it because I had told him that I wasn’t in the right place, re celebrating.

He said, “We have to attack the day.”

“Do we.”

We listened to a podcast on the train once, sharing the same headphones. Patrick had folded his sweater into a pillow so I could put my head on his shoulder. It was the Archbishop of Canterbury on Desert Island Discs. He told a story about losing his first child in a car crash a long time ago.

The presenter asked him how he coped with it now. He said that when it comes to the anniversary, Christmas, her birthday, he had learned that you have to attack the day, “so it doesn’t attack you.”

Patrick seized on the principle. He started saying it all the time. He said it while he was ironing his shirt before the party. I was on our bed watching Bake Off on my laptop, an old episode I had seen before. A contestant takes someone else’s Baked Alaska out of the fridge and it melts in the tin. It made the front page of the papers: a saboteur in the Bake Off tent.

Ingrid texted me when it first aired. She said she would go to her grave knowing that Baked Alaska had been taken out on purpose. I said I was on the fence. She sent me all the cake emojis and the police car.

When he had finished ironing, Patrick came and sat semi-next to me on the bed and watched me watching. “We have to—”

I hit the space bar. “Patrick, I don’t really think we should coopt Bishop Whoever in this case. It’s only my birthday. Nobody has died.”

“I was just trying to be positive.”

“Okay.” I hit the space bar again.

After a moment he told me it was nearly quarter to. “Should you start getting ready? I’d like to be the first ones there. Martha?”

I closed the computer. “Can I wear what I’m wearing?” Leggings, a Fair Isle cardigan, I can’t remember what underneath. I looked up and saw that I had hurt him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’ll get changed.”

Patrick had hired the upstairs part of a bar we used to go to. I did not want to be the first ones there, unsure if I should sit or stand while I waited for people to arrive, wondering if anybody was going to, then feeling awkward on behalf of the person who had the misfortune of being first. I knew that my mother would not be there because I told Patrick not to invite her.

Forty-four people came in units of two. After the age of thirty, it is always even numbers. It was November and freezing. Everyone took a long time to give up their coats. They were mostly Patrick’s friends. I had lost touch with my own, from school and university and all the jobs I have had since, one by one as they had children and I didn’t and there was nothing left for us to talk about. On the way to the party, Patrick said if anyone did start telling me a story about their children, maybe I could try and look interested.

They stood around and drank Negronis—2017 was “the year of the Negroni”—and laughed very loudly and made impromptu speeches, one speaker stepping forward from each group like representatives of a team. I found an ambulant toilet and cried in it.

Ingrid told me fragapane phobia is the fear of birthdays. It was the fun fact from the peel-off strip from sanitary pads, which she says are her chief source of intellectual stimulation at this point, the only reading she gets time for. She said, in her speech, “We all know Martha is an amazing listener, especially if she’s the one talking.” Patrick had something written on index cards.

There wasn’t a single moment when I became the wife I am, although if I had to choose one, my crossing the room and asking my husband not to read out whatever was on those cards would be a contender.

An observer to my marriage would think I have made no effort to be a good or better wife. Or, seeing me that night, that I must have set out to be this way and achieved it after years of concentrated effort. 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.

* * *

The next morning I told Patrick I was sorry for all of it. He had made coffee and carried it out to the living room but hadn’t touched it when I came into the room. He was sitting at one end of the sofa. I sat down and folded my legs underneath me. Facing him, the posture felt beseeching and I put one foot back on the floor.

“I don’t mean to be like this.” I made myself put my hand on his. It was the first time I had touched him on purpose in five months. “Patrick, honestly, I can’t help it.”

“And yet somehow you manage to be so nice to your sister.” He shook my hand off and said he was going out to buy a newspaper. He didn’t come back for five hours.

I am still forty. It is the end of winter, 2018, no longer the year of the Negroni. Patrick left two days after the party.