Having first come across De Botton’s lectures on relationships a few years ago, I immediately knew that everything that he was saying was true. However, at the time I was reluctant to follow his advice and so, while it was still there at the back of my mind, I chose to forget about it until recently. Once I re-watched all of them again, I decided to see if he could transform all of his ideas into a novel and I also wanted to review it, purely to expose more people to Alain de Botton in general.
The story begins when the narrator meets a woman named Chloe on a flight back from Paris and it then continues as they begin a relationship, illustrating all the stages one goes through in such a situation. It’s a very short novel and it’s difficult to call it one in any case, since it still mostly consists on reflections about relationships more than an actual plot. Yet I find that this book is a perfectly condensed version of all of De Botton’s thoughts, which is certainly very helpful.
He is not a believer in romantic love, as he thinks that the 19th century romantics have skewed our vision of what love is, often quoting La Rochefoucauld; “Some people would never have fallen in love if they had never heard of love” and states that the “Romantics made love into a religion”. Prior to hearing De Botton talk about this, I firmly held onto the notion of romantic love and could have even called myself a hopeless romantic at that. However, both personal experiences and the clarity with which De Botton addresses the dangers of looking at relationships and people with this expectation, has changed my perception entirely. For example, he focuses a lot on why, if one is a victim of the vision of romantic love, it is easier to fall in love with someone you known nothing about, since the idealised version of this person can be an excellent escape from our own flaws. Another little taste of the book is this extract, which shows that it does not only contain wise advice about life, but also reflects a sense of quirky humour, which is present throughout the story;
(first time I’ve included an actual photo in my review, but it’s definitely worth it)
This is only one of the ideas that is at the heart of this book. It also examines in detail the other moments in relationships, not only the very beginning stages, starting from the dynamic of arguments and fights, how our personalities adapt to other people and what happens when attraction begins to fade. De Botton has other books which deal with similar subjects such as married life, and his Youtube (The School of Life) holds an even larger wealth of advice about such matters, as well as educational videos on history and philosophy among other things.
While De Botton possess an equally entrancing and charismatic way of delivering his message as Jordan Peterson, whose book was the subject of my last review, I can say with absolutely certainty that I would have still loved this book even if I hadn’t seen a single video of De Botton’s. His book is a third (even less maybe) of Peterson’s in length, yet he delivers his ideas with such precision that they are easy to both understand and implement. Not only that, but also a lot of what he points out is common sense and something that I’ve often considered, yet he is just able to articulate coherently instead of whatever may be going on in my chaotic mind.
This book in no way insists that one give up on love. It just offers a more healthy vision of it, instead of continuing to confuse obsession or ignorance of a person’s flaws as the equivalent of love. I’d recommend it to people who are struggling with that or who feel as though they may have been disappointed by love one too many times. I did not want to give too much away with this review, because it is such a short book and yet at the same time it is so focused on various concepts, but I do hope that I inspire at least one person to read it, because I truly loved it and it now sits on my favourites shelf.
I give this book five out of five wine bottles.