Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason audiobook review – Emilia Fox captures the acerbic wit

The actor brings the dark humour of Mason’s novel to life as she narrates the story of how mental illness changed the course of woman’s life

A pithy examination of marriage and mental illness shortlisted for this year’s Women’s prize for fiction, Sorrow and Bliss begins as its protagonist Martha splits up with her forbearing husband, Patrick, and moves back into her parents’ house. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Martha has a mental health condition. When she was 17, on the morning of her French A-level exam, “a little bomb” went off in her brain, prompting her to go home and crawl under her father’s desk. Over the next 20 years, in order to deal with the chaos in her head, she continues to seek out confined, dark spaces where she lies “like a small animal that instinctively knows it’s dying”.

The actor Emilia Fox reads Mason’s darkly funny novel, capturing Martha’s fury and confusion as well as her acerbic wit (the comparisons to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag are not wide of the mark). Woven into her story is her maladjusted family, who include her father, Fergus, a poet whose career stalled shortly after he was designated “a male Sylvia Plath”; her mother, Celia, an alcoholic sculptor who is charismatic yet cruel; and sister Ingrid, who is both protective of and exasperated by Martha. And, of course, there’s Patrick, a sweet-natured doctor whom Martha has known since her cousin brought him home from boarding school one Christmas after his father forgot to send him a plane ticket home. Martha, who has precious little love for herself, knows that Patrick is too good for her. But the question remains: will he give her a second chance?

• Sorrow and Bliss is available from Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 10hr 44min.

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