This is partly a novel, and partly a collection of essay-like analyses of love. The story follows the relationship between a man and a woman, from the moment they meet on a plane. Of course, the book charts their whole relationship, so the end is inevitable, even if we hope it won’t be (much like the lovers themselves, I suppose).
The psychological ‘essays’ that are woven in with the story are intriguing and sometimes enlightening, but of course de Botton’s mission is practically impossible. He is trying to find general truths about something that is necessarily always unique, which is why the ‘part-story’ element works so well. The essays alone would be fine, but would come across as a drop in the ocean. By combining them with the story of one couple, the essays take on a resonance they might otherwise have lacked.
De Botton’s writing style is both humorous and brutally frank (side note: short chapters broken into very short sections – I love it). I did not feel there was anything particularly ground breaking in the book, but neither was it trite – de Botton’s writing manages to hold its own amongst the overwhelming force of literature about love. Whether the ending is optimistic (maybe this time…) or pessimistic (oh no, not again…) probably depends on the individual reader.
There’s a feeling all the way through that everything that happens cannot really be helped. The narrator feels a certain way and, even if he gains hindsight later about how he should have acted, at the time he is unable to act any other way. Most of the self-analysis has probably been done after the fact – for example, the chapter about the sulk – making it seem that self-awareness isn’t really possible in the heat of the moment.
This seems to place the lover on shaky ground – does he act a certain way because he’s in love? Would he have done the same if he was not in love? This is a valid question, but I don’t think it applies only to love. What de Botton says in this book could be extrapolated to everything that is human. A person will always be influenced by many things, including what they feel (love or otherwise), and since people are never without emotion of some sort, then no one is ever in a position of pure objectivity. Perhaps this could be a summary of the book:
“I’m doing my best, but how do I know it’s the right thing?”
“You don’t, so do it anyway.”
I read this book on my Kindle (you can read my previous post about why Kindles are awesome here). I bought the book fairly recently as part of a book binge. It had been on my list of books to read for ages – I don’t remember how I originally came across most of the books on that list, which I’ve been adding to for years, but it’s interesting to get reading recommendations from Me From The Past!
- “…we embarked on one of the longer and more beautiful kisses mankind has ever known.”
- “We start trying to be wise when we realise that we are not born knowing how to live, but that life is a skill that has to be acquired, like riding a bicycle or playing the piano.”
– gildius –