Review: 'The Course of Love' by Alain de Botton

Love is, without meaning to sound cliché, at the core of most of human life. Almost every novel, every film, song or painting comes back to love eventually which allows us to answer some of life's most fundamental questions. And no one talks about it as well as Alain de Botton so I knew I wanted to get a chance at reading him for myself. Thanks to Penguin Books and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 28/04/2016
Publisher: Penguin Books UK
The long-awaited and beguiling second novel from Alain de Botton that tracks the beautifully complicated arc of a romantic partnership, from the internationally bestselling author of On Love and How Proust Can Change Your Life.
We all know the headiness and excitement of the early days of love. But what comes after? In Edinburgh, a couple, Rabih and Kirsten, fall in love. They get married, they have children—but no long-term relationship is as simple as “happily ever after.” The Course of Love is a novel that explores what happens after the birth of love, what it takes to maintain love, and what happens to our original ideals under the pressures of an average existence. You experience, along with Rabih and Kirsten, the first flush of infatuation, the effortlessness of falling into romantic love, and the course of life thereafter. Interwoven with their story and its challenges is an overlay of philosophy—an annotation and a guide to what we are reading.
This is a Romantic novel in the true sense, one interested in exploring how love can survive and thrive in the long term. The result is a sensory experience—fictional, philosophical, psychological—that urges us to identify deeply with these characters, and to reflect on his and her own experiences in love. Fresh, visceral, and utterly compelling, The Course of Love is a provocative and life-affirming novel for everyone who believes in love.
The Course of Love is split up into two different types of narratives. On the one hand there is the story of Rabih and Kirsten, told non-chronologically. de Botton moves between remembering the first flares of their infatuation while discussing the early days of their marriage, before flashing back to their first meeting. The second story-strand is de Botton's interjections about the nature of love, enlightening the story of Rabih and Kirsten or giving advice to the reader. Whether it is noting the disproportionate amount of attention on the beginning of love rather than the continuation of it, or discussing the role of parenting in love, de Botton actually addresses almost everything that could affect the 'happily ever after'. This dual nature makes it hard to fully consider The Course of Love a fictional novel but de Botton makes it work.

The quote that made me sure I'd enjoy The Course of Love was:
'Then comes the pivotal challenge of knowing whether the feeling is mutual, a topic of almost childlike simplicity nonetheless capable of sustaining endless semiotic study and detailed psychological conjecture.' 6%
Writing a book about love, especially one that is infused with philosophical statements, comes with a lot of potential pitfalls. If the author doesn't actually both understand the problems that might accompany love but can also write about them in an engaging and understanding way then the book is lost. de Botton, thankfully, knows how to talk about love without becoming too sweet or too sanctimonious. Although The Course of Love isn't necessarily the type of book one can read in one go, it is very interesting.

The Course of Love is the kind of book that you will be able to revisit over and over again throughout your life, finding relevance in new passages now that you've entered a different stage of life. de Botton's writing style is fascinating because both his style and The Course of Love are so stripped back. de Botton has gotten rid of all the cliches, of the romantic settings and the heavy symbolic language. What is left is something between a case study and a novel which is fascinating. The love he describes is not one of passionate chases through airports or confessions in the rain, but rather the calm truth of what love really is. The Course of Love is like a flash of clarity after which you can return to the haziness of romance but with a clearer brain. It's a thought-provoking read which will make for great discussions and, dare I say it, personal growth.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

The Course of Love is incredibly readable. The writing in The Course of Love is fun and interesting, the love story he describes one that everyone can both recognise and aspire to. de Botton has won a new fan in me after The Course of Love. I'd recommend this to fans of philosophical reads and those who are inquisitive about love.


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