You have got to love a good love story, haven’t you? The inhabitants of the worlds of fiction – both written and filmed – seem to care for little else sometimes, we can become very sentimental thinking back to first love – either our own or the first one we experienced in one of those fictional worlds – and we spend an absolute fortune each year on February 14th. And let’s not even start thinking about the average cost of a wedding these days…But are we really thinking about love in the right way?
In The Course of Love de Botton explains that our traditional view of love is not so much wrong as too narrow. We focus so strongly on the beginning of love, the meeting, the falling and the wedding that we fail to consider how love grows and develops throughout an actual marriage. In this novel, however, we are briefly introduced to the two main characters as they meet, fall in love and marry: the bulk of the book investigates, in almost forensic detail, the course of the marriage itself. This doesn’t go smoothly since both Rabih and Kirsten have had difficult childhoods which colour their attitudes to life, work and romance.
This isn’t a book about hearts and flowers. It is not that it is unromantic but that it is quite realistic about how our views of what romance is fits in with the realities of life. How many couples, young or otherwise, fall out, argue or even split up over prosaic issues such as money (usually the lack of it), sharing domestic tasks or who is always the one to change the loo roll? This is real love – messy, upsetting but, ultimately, something which helps us to grow and develop as human beings. Because this is Alain de Botton we look deeply into the philosophy and psychology of the relationship. Which is maybe something we could all benefit from doing in many of our own relationships.
This is a book about love which is not sexy or romantic in any traditional way. It looks at the love couples have for each other but also that between parents and children – it is almost entirely unsentimental but I did find myself caring very much about whether Rabih and Kirsten would overcome their problems. I will also have to resist the urge to thrust passages from this story on various friends and relations – if I have learned anything it is that couples need to work out their issues in their own way – but I may be tempted to leave a copy in plain sight in the hope that some of them will read and learn about themselves.