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01Jul

I’m Sorry You Feel that Way by Rebecca Wait review – family tragicomedy

An investigation into sibling dynamics, mental illness and intergenerational trauma, written with unusual clarity and wit

Rebecca Wait’s new novel invites inevitable comparisons to Meg Mason’s runaway success Sorrow and Bliss. Both are about a pair of sisters; both grapple with madness, mad women and intergenerational trauma. Both are actively funny – because of, rather than in spite of, their subject matter. And both are sharp and wry, written with a clever and unusual clarity. To fail to make the connection would be to miss the obvious – and yet both books rather suffer in the comparison. To dwell too hard on the similarities renders them a blur of high emotions and waspish comments, one a little more composed, the other a little more immediate, demanding a favourite where no favourites need be played. Much, you could say, like sisters.

At the opening of I’m Sorry You Feel That Way, Alice and Hanna are twins in their early 20s whose mother, Celia, has spent her life in the kind of seriously troubled mental state that can pass under the radar of everyone but her children. They are all attending the funeral of Celia’s older sister, whose schizophrenia dominated Celia’s early life. This funeral functions as a family reunion: Hanna has not spoken to Celia, Alice or their brother Michael in several years. Some kind of dramatic rift has occurred between them, and it is this, and the healing of it – or not – that drives the plot.

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