Friday, February 19, 2021

"Sorrow and Bliss"

Meg Mason began her career at the Financial Times and The Times of London. Her work has since appeared in The Sunday Times, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sunday Telegraph. She has written humour for The New Yorker and Sunday STYLE, monthly columns for GQ and has been a regular contributor to Vogue, ELLE and marie claire, before becoming an author full time. Her first book Say It Again in a Nice Voice, a memoir of early motherhood, was published in 2012. Her novel You Be Mother followed in 2017. The newly released Sorrow and Bliss is her third novel. She lives in Sydney, with her husband and two daughters.

Mason applied the Page 69 Test to Sorrow and Bliss and reported the following:
Sorrow and Bliss is a love story about the end of a marriage. The novel opens two days before Patrick leaves Martha, a woman he has loved from the time they met as teenagers.

What follows is Martha’s telling of all the time between then and now, her recollection and examination of each phase of her life, her effort to work out what happened and what she is supposed to do next.

On page 69, she is twenty-five and dating a man called Jonathan.

It has been, at this point, eight years since – in Martha’s words – ‘a little bomb when off in my brain’, leaving her with a mental illness which, still, no doctor has been able to properly diagnose. Lacking a right explanation for the way she is, Martha has invented one - deciding she is just a ‘difficult, too-sensitive person’ who ‘finds it harder to be alive than most people.’ All she wants is to be better, or normal, or different.

She and Jonathan have only known each other for six weeks and he has just – a page before - proposed to her at a dinner party he put on for that purpose, inviting Martha’s entire family.
He hadn’t met them before that night [she explains then,] or known me long enough to know that I would feel the same about such an intimate thing occurring in public as I had felt at fourteen when I got my first period at an ice rink. I wanted it, but not in those circumstances. Later, I understood it was because Jonathan needed an audience.
Page 69 is Martha, about to answer the proposal.
In the slowed-down moment of getting up, I looked at my weakly smiling father, whose desire to help me had always exceeded his ability, at Ingrid [her sister] who was still in the stage of sitting on [her husband] Hamish’s lap, presently with her arms draped around his neck. I looked at my uncle and aunt and cousins in intimate conversation at the other end of the table, past Patrick who was only a place along but seemed on his own, to my mother who was splashing champagne into and nearly into her glass with her eyes fixed too adoringly on Jonathan who was, by then, standing with his arms out like he was about to take possession of a large object. I wanted to become someone else. I wanted to belong to anyone else. I wanted everything to be different. Before he actually asked me and so he wouldn’t get down on one knee in front of my family, I said yes.
Lacking a diagnosis, an explanation for why she is the way she is, lacking a cure, Martha at 25 will cast herself towards anything or anyone who might be able to ‘fix her’.

Jonathan can’t of course. The marriage is a disaster. Martha’s search starts again, again.

This is the repeating pattern of all the years to come. It will define her marriage to Patrick - her illness, the absence of knowing, everything she will do and try to fix herself. And so all of the novel is here, on this one page. Her finally finding out is what has brought them to the end, when the novel starts. But it isn’t where their story is going to end.
Visit Meg Mason's website.

--Marshal Zeringue