Published November 1st 2012 by Picador (first published November 1993)
Author: Alain de Botton
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“The longing for a destiny is nowhere stronger than in our romantic life.”
The narrator is smitten by Chloe on a Paris-London flight, and by the time they’ve reached the luggage carousel, he knows he is in love. He loves her chestnut hair and pale nape and watery green eyes, the way she drives a car and eats Chinese food, the gap that makes her teeth Kantian and not Platonic, her views on Heidegger’s Being and Time – although he hates her taste in shoes. On Love plots the course of their affair from the initial delirium of infatuation to the depths of suicidal despair, through the “Marxist” stage of coming to terms with being loved by the unattainable beloved, through a fit of anhedonia, defined in medical texts as a disease resulting from the terror brought on by the threat of utter happiness, and finally through the nausea induced and terrorist tactics employed when the beloved begins, inexplicably, to drift away.
I found my copy of this book in Oxfam, and picked it up off the shelf straight away. It was one of those books I felt I’d heard of, so decided to give it a go. It was also one of those rare occasions, usually given over to newly published books, where I read a book I just bought straight away.
Although I don’t read romance books often, I wouldn’t class this first and foremost as a romance book. It’s main focus is love. How do we fall in love? Is there one person in this whole world who we are destined to love? How does love work? Here we get a fictional love story, told through a man philosophising about love as he experiences it.
This book tracks the whole process, and if you’ve ever been in love and had a relationship that’s gone from beginning to end, there will be something (plenty of things) for you to relate to in here.
I related most to the beginning chapters, where we explore the nature of meeting someone new who you begin to have feelings for, and the strange process of figuring out whether they feel the same way. I have recent experience of this (sort of) and I found myself underlining quotes that seemed to fit that situation perfectly.
The book is also funny. It made me laugh out loud in deathly quiet waiting rooms. It made me stop reading, tap my mum’s arm for her attention, then I would explain the story so far, and read out the funny quote. My mum is not much of reader, but she laughed too. She got it.
I raced through it, and it made me want to not only read more books by this author, but read more philosophy and read more less recently published books. Recent writing is great, but there’s something different about devouring an older book, a book from a different era. This book had that feeling all over it.
In some ways, I’m a hopeless romantic, and in other ways I’m not. This book brought out the romantic in me, and I love the way it ends. There’s an element of predictability to it in some cases, but that’s only because when dealing with love some things are inevitable.
The layout of the paragraphs and chapters is also interesting. It’s almost as if this fictional story about love doubles us as a guide for love, told through a love story. Each paragraph in each chapter is numbered. This actually made it much easier to read, as I like text which is broken up frequently, and it made my reading experience a lot better and I could read more in one go.
There are also, occasionally, illustrations to accompany what the narrator is trying to explain. These aren’t so frequent, but they are a treat.
It may have been a quick read, an affair maybe, but this is a book I won’t be forgetting in a long time, and I’m really glad I read it when I did – I think I needed to read it at this point, and I’d like to think we found each other like two people destined to love do. And, even if I hadn’t found it in Oxfam, I would have found it a few weeks later in Fopp, as they have recently got copies of it in. I see you there destiny working your magic.
Read the book, it’s just the ideal exploration of love.
Link to the book on Goodreads: Essays in Love
“The most attractive are not those who allow us to kiss them at once (we soon feel ungrateful) or those who never allow us to kiss them (we soon forget them), but those who know how carefully to administer varied doses of hope and despair.”
“It is one of the ironies of love that it is easiest confidently to seduce those to whom we are least attracted.”
“A silence with an unattractive person implies they are the boring one. A silence with an attractive one immediately renders it certain that you are the tedious party.”
“The only guy I like is the one who’ll keep me waiting.”
“Only after we have undertaken a thorough exchange of opinions on parenting, politics, art, science, and appropriate snacks for the kitchen should two people ever decide they are ready to love each other.”
“Perhaps it is true that we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing, we cannot properly speak until there is someone there who can understand what we are saying, in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved.”