Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence

At last! At last, I have finished the torturous process of reading this book. I remember reading it back in high school when I became interested in exploring classic novels, and at the time I thought it was dreary and awful. That feeling stayed with me so that when I saw it was assigned reading for the English class I am taking this semester, I almost wanted to drop the course. However, common sense won out, and I thought maybe a decade of life experience would help me to appreciate the book more.

Well, it sort of did and sort of didn't. I thought this book was pointless and uncompelling. Supposedly it's an important novel in many ways, but to me, the mark of a *good* novel is either a strong story, or compelling characters, presented with good writing. I guess I can grudgingly admit that "Sons and Lovers" has the last characteristic; I didn't find myself feeling any interest in the main characters or their lives (I mostly found them exasperating, or self-absorbed, or both), and I could barely discern any kind of plot here, so the story wasn't all that great, in my opinion. The saving grace of this book is the very fine writing, which made it bearable for me to keep picking it up and plugging away at it, page after page. I can't remember the last time it took me over a week to finish a novel; I certainly was aware of this as I read. You know you're in a desperate situation when you are constantly checking the page number of the last page of a book, and then counting how many pages are left to slog through before you're finally done.

So. This is the story of Paul Morel, an egocentric and excessively emotional young Englishman, and his relationships with his mother and two other women (the "lovers" of the title). To a lesser degree it is also a book about Paul's other family members and friends. It's set in a late nineteenth century coal mining town in the English midlands, and the activity of the coal mine is an ever-present backdrop to the events of the novel; as a sort of counterpoint, there are quite a lot of descriptions of the natural beauty of this part of England, which I enjoyed reading. The book is autobiographical, which made me particularly critical of the way Lawrence portrays the various secondary characters and the effect of their behaviour on Paul. Often it seems he blames the women in Paul's life for treating him in such a way that he can't grow or fully express himself. Picture me rolling my eyes here.

Nothing much happens in this book. Paul's parents go about their unhappy marriage, Paul is born, grows up, gets a job, tries to figure out if he wants to marry the two women to whom he is closest (aside from his mother) and ultimately -- well, I won't tell you how the book ends in case you ever read it, but remember what I said at the start of this paragraph! There were some very poignant moments here, and I can appreciate in a detached sort of way why so many people admire Lawrence's writing. Ultimately, though, having failed to really grab me or affect me deeply, this book is going back on the shelf with a fervent hope on my part that I can avoid having to write a paper about it before the semester is over.

1 comment:

Laura said...

I, for one, will not be rushing to reread this anytime soon. :)