Perhaps Lawrence's masterpiece, this is one of the best novels I have ever read. Through Paul Morel, we get to see so many aspects of life: family, psychology, love, art and everything in between. Having heard bad things about some of his other works (I'm almost willing to fall out with friends over this!) my expectations were not too high but I can safely say Lawrence far exceeded them. Perhaps what I was least prepared for was for it to be such a touching book. Coming from a coal mining family not too far removed from the Morels, I can see the origins of my own family throughout the book. If you haven't already read the book, please be careful about spoilers from this point on!
Lawrence based the book on his own upbringing and, like many great bildungsromans, one of the central ideas is the protagonist's attempts to go 'into the world'. Unfortunately, this is complicated by his stormy family life, the death of his brother and his borderline suffocating relationship with his mother, Gertrude. Gertrude remains a spectre throughout the novel, becoming closer with Paul until their bond begins to overshadow everything else in his life. She is a sympathetic figure, a portrait of a life sadly wasted, but she also threatens Paul with the same thing. As he enters relationships, first with Miriam, then with Clara, he is never fully able to give himself over, finding his mother still looms over him. There is an obvious psychoanalytic reading here which is definitely present, but this does not do justice to the subtle psychology of the novel, which allows Lawrence to investigate the inner life of Paul and his family while being sensitive but not sentimental. Beyond this skillful approach, Lawrence's prose is beautiful without being excessively flowery, bringing the sadness of the novel to life.
Perhaps the highest praise I can give to Sons and Lovers is that when I read it, I kept wondering if I was reading a Flaubert novel.