This is an interesting book; there are no dramatic events and it could be described as just a tale of family life within a mining community, yet the word that I use most often to describe this book is ‘disturbing’ so it isn’t as gentle as it first seems. The book shows the whole family throughout several decades, but focuses mainly on the son, Paul, and his relationships with the women in his life. I feel there are two main themes running through the book; the first being how love can become obsessive and damaging, and the second being how the behaviour and choices of parents can often be replicated by their children (even if these behaviours were despised by the children).

This book displays a powerful and quite disturbing version of love; quite obsessive love in several ways. This type of love is displayed most powerfully between Mother and Paul; obviously it is good that mother and son are close yet they seem almost like husband and wife sometimes with their reliance on each other and their closeness. Mother is jealous of Miriam (Paul’s girlfriend) and puts pressure on Paul to love her more than Miriam. Paul therefore begins to feel ashamed of, and attempts to subdue, any feelings he has for Miriam and then seems to grow to hate her and to try and hurt her by being deliberately cruel; this seems to be him trying to convince himself he has no love for her. He seems to be almost punishing her for causing these feelings of love in him (though she has no idea what she is being punished for) and also punishing her because he blames her for causing his mother pain – yet the pain is caused solely by the mother; she is unhappy and jealous of Paul’s feelings for Miriam and makes him feel guilty for these feelings and he therefore takes it out on Miriam. This mother and son relationship does not seem a very healthy one.

Miriam’s love for Paul is another strange one; she tolerates all of his cruelty and yet still loves him. However her love seems a very possessive one; she seems to love Paul for his soul and wants to absorb him totally (and I feel Mother recognises this desire for possession and fears there will be no love left for her as they both won’t be able to share him). Miriam seems to be very much in her own little world; not mixing with others (apart from Paul) and looking down on everyone else. She has strong religious beliefs yet even these don’t seem entirely healthy; at times her reason for loving Paul seems to be so she can then feel guilty and apologise to God for these feelings, and strive to quell them.

The book also describes very accurately how the closeness between husband and wife can be lost gradually over time, and how complicated, and often destructive, family life can be. Morel (the husband) does beat the wife occasionally and is clearly a bully who affects the mood of the children and the house, but it doesn’t seem like it is just this fact that has caused the gulf between husband and wife. This would be an easy thing for the author to blame the marital difficulties on, but instead the book is cleverer than that as it portrays all the little, insignificant events and conversations that can chip away at love and trust and friendship. The children seem very close to their mother, which is not really a strange relationship as such, but they do seem to feel protective towards her and feel her pain and worry with her, which is not really the responsibility of children. The father is made to feel like an unwelcome intruder in the home, and no-one invests any time in talking to him – he has beaten the children too on occasions, however he seems to genuinely be trying to show he cares for them, but they won’t let him get close to them (perhaps understandably). When he has his accident and is in hospital, the house feels more peaceful without his presence and everyone is obviously glad he’s not there.

I feel Paul eventually turns into his parents – particularly Morel, the man he hates and despises. Paul‘s cruel treatment of Miriam is a repeat of Morel’s treatment to his wife, and Paul’s selfish and inconsiderate actions towards Miriam are a repeat of Mrs Morel’s to her children. I notice, towards the end of the book, the author changes from calling him ‘Paul’ to calling him ‘Morel’; thereby seeming to reinforce that he has become his father. At times I feel quite sorry for Paul; both women in his life seem to want to possess him completely and he is caught between the two. He seems to almost view Miriam as his conscience and resents that feeling – when he knows he is acting badly or unfairly he seems to feel that she unconsciously reminds him of this bad behaviour, another reason why he hates her at times. He is an interesting character that I can’t quite make my mind up about; is he simply just a selfish, ungrateful and cruel man who isn’t capable of loving without causing hurt, or is he an unfortunate man that has been dominated all his life by extremely strong women who have tried to mould him into something he isn’t, tried to contain and control him until he has almost cracked and knows no will of his own?

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