Book extract: Strong, witty writing takes readers into sorrow and bliss

Day 18: Read any great books lately? We’re publishing 31 days of book extracts from Australian authors to help inspire your 2021 reading list. This extract from Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason provides an intriguing insight into the key character of Martha and hints at the bold writing style the author is earning praise for. Meg’s writing career started at the Financial Times and The Times of London. Now living in Sydney, she is a regular contributor to Vogue, ELLE, Stellar and marie claire. She’s written two other books - Say It Again in a Nice Voice and You Be Mother.

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason.
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason.

Extract from Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason:

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, realising 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. Even now, if it’s still there, nobody gives it any conscious thought.’

‘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 after that. 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 5000 times.

Sorrow and Bliss (Harper Collins) by Meg Mason is available for a RRP of $32.99 at all good bookshops and online.

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