This novel is about a woman called Martha. She knows there is something wrong with her but she doesn’t know what it is. Her husband Patrick thinks she is fine. He says everyone has something, the thing is just to keep going.
Martha told Patrick before they got married that she didn’t want to have children. He said he didn’t mind either way because he has loved her since he was fourteen and making her happy is all that matters, although he does not seem able to do it.
By the time Martha finds out what is wrong, it doesn’t really matter anymore. It is too late to get the only thing she has ever wanted. Or maybe it will turn out that you can stop loving someone and start again from nothing – if you can find something else to want.
Wow, this is a hard novel to do justice in a review. Sorrow and Bliss was, for me, a hard read. It felt so visceral, bleak and sad at times that I found myself not wanting to pick it up because it just felt so – and then not wanting to put it down!
Sorrow and Bliss is full of characters that you probably won’t like, but every character felt real and convincing to me. Their relationships with one another and the way they deal with difficult situations is obviously messy at times, but that’s real life.
The same applies to the main character, Martha. She is a well developed, complex character and I did like her overall, but at other times I felt such frustration and even a sense of dislike towards her. I enjoyed her deadpan voice, and the way she relayed things to the reader, plus her interactions with others were often very entertaining and amusing – when she wasn’t being horrible to them, that is. She has so much to deal with and I knew that when reading it, but some of the scenes and the way she purposefully seemed to alienate those around her was hard to read and I felt a sadness reading them, knowing it wasn’t her fault but also was.
The theme of mental illness is, of course, very prevalent in this novel, but the author does a great job of making Martha a product and representation of many other things, not just her illness – just like real people should not be defined by their illnesses, or blame every wrong thing they do on it.
I don’t know if I can do Sorrow and Bliss justice with my review. For me, it is a beautifully written but hard to read book – but a very important one to read whether you’ve experienced mental illness personally or not.