Meet Gertrude Morel, a vibrant and ambitious young woman who has some really great ideas. Unfortunately, in early-20th-century British society, women don't get many opportunities to discuss ideas. So, instead of talking, she goes to parties and entertains herself by trying to find out as much as she can about the other guests.
You know, kind of like how we ride the bus with our sunglasses on just so we can stare at people. Anyway, one day, Gertrude comes across a man who's unlike anyone she's ever met. His name? Walter Morel.Walter is a young coal miner who loves to dance and sing without any of the inhibitions that govern Gertrude's prim and proper life. Lucky guys, those early-20th-century Brit boys. Compared to the women, at least—are we right? Anyway, it doesn't take long for Walter's zest for life to completely win Gertrude's heart. Surprise, surprise. Swoon, swoon. Big fat diamond.
Next thing you know, Gertrude becomes Mrs. Morel. There's only one problem: Walter decides shortly after marrying that he doesn't want to be a teetotaler anymore, and starts drinking away all of their money. Oh yeah, and he kind of lied about ever having any money to begin with. Mrs. Morel quickly descends into a miserable life and has four children with Walter. Her first son, William, grows up to be an energetic and successful guy. Mrs. Morel is pretty up-front about the fact that she wants to use William to live out all her unfulfilled ambitions. Yikes.
When William dies young, though, Mrs. Morel heaps all of these unfulfilled desires onto her next son, Paul. Then she gets really possessive of him. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. We guess.
Paul is a quiet and artistic boy. As he grows up, he and his mother become inseparable. But then Paul falls in love with Miriam. Paul can't admit to this love openly, because his mom doesn't really like Miriam. She thinks Miriam is going to suck all of the energy out of Paul and make him average, when Paul should be going out and doing great things in the world.
As the story continues, Paul actually starts feeling an attraction to Miriam's older, married friend, Clara Dawes. And yep, he ends up breaking things off with Miriam and getting with Clara. Kind of harsh, bro. But Paul can't commit to Clara either. There's some part of him that he's never willing to give to a woman... a woman who isn't his mother, anyway. He wants to connect with someone, but doesn't want to marry because it might interfere with his pursuit of individual greatness. This sounds like a pretty familiar narrative in some cultures—especially for men—don't you think?
Sadly, Paul's mom gets sick and dies. Paul, consequently, spirals out of control, falling into a life of drinking and flirting with women he doesn't care about. During this time, Miriam asks him if they can get married, and he says no. Bad news bears abound.
Paul sinks deeper and deeper into his dark hole of sadness. He thinks about committing suicide so he can be with his mother again, but instead he decides to forge ahead and try to live a good life…At the end of the novel, though, we simply don't know if he'll be able to live, or not. So we say: best of luck to you, buddy. You go on and chase your dreams.