"Essays in Love" will appeal to anyone who has ever been in a relationship or confused about love. The book charts the progress of a love affair from the first kiss to argument and reconciliation, from intimacy and tenderness to the onset of anxiety and heartbreak. The work’s genius lies in the way it minutely analyses emotions we’ve all felt before but have perhaps never understood so well: it includes a chapter on the anxieties of when and how to say ‘I love you’ and another on the challenges of disagreeing with someone else’s taste in shoes.While gripping the reader with the talent of a great novelist, de Botton brings a philosopher’s sensibility to his analyses of the emotions of love, resulting in a genre-breaking book that is at once touching and thought-provoking.
This is the second book I read for my “relationships topic” for the One, Two, Theme Challenge. I have been ogling some of Alain de Botton’s books for quite a while and finally decided to start with this one, as it was his debut novel. It certainly won’t be my last.
I absolutely loved his style here. Basically it is the story of a romance from the very beginning to the end and a bit further on, so that the reader knows that the cycle (at least for the male narrator) started all over again. And a cycle it is. The story is divided into chapters, like for example, “Romantic Fatalism”, talking about that the chance meeting of the soon to be lovers is actually fate, “The Subtext of Seduction”, talking about how to seduce the beloved properly and the thoughts behind it, “Contractions”, here black clouds are showing up on the horizon, and “The Jesus Complex” where eventually the one who was left behind comes to the conclusion everything is the other person’s fault. Every chapter describes one or more specific, often mundane, situations and then reflects upon them with the help of numerous philosophers. Really everybody will recognize him- or herself in those scenes, or, if not in a specific situation, at least in the general thoughts that are lying behind it.
I read some reviews on amazon saying that the romance was incredibly predictable and therefore the book was highly unoriginal. I disagree. The book was original simply BECAUSE the romance was so ordinary and predictable. The whole point of the book is to show how every romance takes its course in a predetermined way and the reason our romance here is so predictable is that everyone has experienced exactly that before.
I was not too enthusiastic about both the male and the female character. Probably I sympathize more with Chloe, however, because the man turns out to be a total jerk right after their first night together. She cooks a wonderful breakfast for him and he insists on having a certain jam, a flavour she hasn’t got. He acts so stupidly that I would have kicked him out right away, but Chloe puts up with his crap – amazingly what love can do to you. The narrator himself, who can’t explain his own behaviour at the time, later comes up with a reason for it which is not completely unfeasible.
This is what I liked about the book. Every little detail and nuance is looked at from all sorts of perspectives and talked about. I found it very insightful. I also liked the language, I don’t think there was one sentence I found boring or too much.
A nice little touch – if somewhat trite – was the fact that the beginning and the end of the romance not only take place on a plane, but also that the exact same sentence describes the landing of the plane and the disembarking of the passengers. The circle is closed.
If you want to know more about ordinary relationships, how they work and about their dynamics, this is a must read.
Disclaimer: If you are a romantic and want to stay that way, better not touch this book. It takes a relationship apart and scrutinizes it minutely. The result is 100% realism with no room for romantic idealization.
Judith has mentioned she didn’t like this book too much. If you would like to read what she had to say you can go the the comments of this blog post where she copied her Shelfari review.
||Essays in love
||Alain de Botton
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