Most of us have been touched by mental illness, either directly or indirectly by someone we know. This is a remarkably frank and honest story about a young woman called Martha who knows that something is not right but has no idea what it is and how to go about fixing it.
Martha comes from a family where her sculptor mother is barely there for her children preferring to leave her offspring to their own devices. Her father, a wannabe poet knows his daughter is not well and tries his best to help.
This novel is also about relationships and love too, especially between sisters. Martha’s sister Ingrid is her rock, her sounding board and her support. Ingrid is also quite a personality, all knowing and seeing when it comes to protecting Martha. The same can be said of the relationship between Martha’s mother and her aunt, Winsome. Indeed, it is Winsome, my most favourite character who holds the extended family together putting her arms around her own children as well as her nieces. Her love is intense and loyal. Winsome goes above and beyond including financing her own sister’s lifestyle. She even takes on Patrick, a young boy of fourteen whose own father can’t be bothered with him.
Martha flits between relationships choosing the wrong men and learns much later how important Patrick is to her, unaware of his love until she is in her thirties.
The author deals with the illness in intricate detail, deliberately withholding from the reader the name of the condition, when it is finally diagnosed. The author does mention afterwards that the illness is fabricated and I’m not sure how people with genuine illnesses might react to that. Nevertheless, it shines a light on how difficult mental illness can be and the problematic road to seeking the appropriate help which can be as daunting as it is difficult.
The author’s navigation around failing and blooming relationships is genuine and tender as is the discussion surrounding the pressure to have children for many women. Mason also spotlights the effects on loved ones who can feel helpless and lost in their support as shown by the toll on Ingrid and Patrick.
The writing is beautiful, flowing gently through the years of Martha’s life culminating in a hopeful ending.
I enjoyed this book but for some it might be hard to handle so much sadness. But there is a lot of light and shade with much love and humour that you can’t help be drawn into it.