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Alain de Botton: Essays in Love (US: On Love)

“I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter who you marry. If you like them at the beginning, you probably won’t like them at the end. And if you start off hating them, there’s always the chance you’ll end up thinking they’re all right.” The words are not de Botton’s but those of his girlfriend’s father. I recently read a survey which said that 80% of married American men, if given the choice, would marry the same woman. Only 50% of married American women would make the same choice. Yup, there’s still plenty to say on the subject. De Botton takes his love affair and analyzes it from every angle, upside, downside, herside, Marxside, JohnStuartMillside, yet the most profound statement about love I came away with was the above quote.

This novel has had considerable success because it is cool, it is hip, it uses big words and quotes from philosophers we have never heard of (so he went to Cambridge University) and is meant to tell us all about love but, in reality, it is not about love, it is about Alain de Botton, a topic about which, frankly, I find it hard to work up any enthusiasm. I am surprised that Chloe, the object of his affection, does. At their first post-coital repast, she makes him a slap-up meal, with five different jams but all he can do is bitch that there is no strawberry jam and goes out to buy some. Excuse me? DTMFA, I was crying. But she does not. She buys new shoes and he says she looks like a pelican but still she comes back for more. It’s not as though he is Tom Cruise. His photo (taken by one Chloe Stewart – is this the same Chloe?) makes him look like a rather ordinary looking twelve-year old but maybe it’s the light.

The love affair spins out and then spins away – shock! horror! he even contemplates suicide – and still the philosophical analysis carries on. I learned nothing. If you want hip, cool, philosophical trendiness à la Nicholson Baker, this book may well be for you. Otherwise, read Madame Bovary or, better still, do as Chloe does, read Cosmopolitan.

Publishing history

First published 1993 by MacMillan