I read this book after hearing several people on social media raving about it, such as Elizabeth Day, whose recommendations I usually love.
For the first time after reading a book, I genuinely couldn’t decide whether I loved it or hated it.
Reading the reviews on Amazon, it’s clear that one of the bugbears of many readers is the author doesn’t identify the mental illness that the main protagonist Martha suffers from. This jarred with me, and I felt when it was revealed – or not as the case was – it broke up the flow of the narrative.
It is left open for us to decide which I agree is a bit of a cop-out. However, I do understand the author’s reasons for doing so. It gave her free rein to do what she wanted with the character’s illness. Make of that what you will.
The novel centres around Martha who is the narrator. She is married to the very long-suffering Patrick. She has a close relationship with her sister Ingrid who bounces from one pregnancy to the next.
How Martha feels about her sister’s ability to fall pregnant so effortlessly, is a bit of a mystery and the answer unfolds gradually throughout the novel.
The parts of the novel I felt that were courageously dealt with and beautifully written were Martha’s relationships with her sister, her husband Patrick, and the dramatic relationship she has with her mother Celia.
The complexity of family relationships is portrayed in all its rawness but the use of humour lightens the darkness when most needed. There are some exquisite moments between Martha and Ingrid and Martha and her mother, particularly towards the end.
The last third of the book was where it picked up for me. Up until then, I wasn’t hooked, so if you stick with it, it does get better as it goes along.
Whether you like this novel or not, I feel will come down to your feelings about how the author dealt with Martha’s illness. It may be the one weakness in the novel that readers just can’t get past. I found it frustrating, but ultimately it didn’t ruin the novel for me.
There are some brilliant one-liners throughout and I did find myself laughing out loud several times.
Meg Mason is acerbic, doesn’t shy away from the dark side of life and uses humour to great effect.
I think this is a novel that needs to be read on holiday, so you can fully absorb yourself in it. I think I missed out perhaps on how good it is by reading it over a few weeks.
I may give it another go. But I would absolutely love to hear what you thought. Did you enjoy it?