Tuesday 2 August 2016

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

The Course of Love is a difficult book to pin down.

It's a brief but believable narrative about a couple - their childhood, first meeting, falling in love, marriage, children and growing older together interspersed with pertinent insightful tit-bits from de Botton about the psychological nature of love and relationships.

For someone like me, in a loving, long term relationship and closer to 50 than she would like to think about, this book felt a little like old news.

It was nice to be reminded of some of the hard won realisations we had worked out for ourselves over the years. But part of why these hard won truths are so meaningful to us, is because we worked them out ourselves.

Which isn't to say, that some of the profound insights into our own characters and how we act in significant relationships didn't stem from a chance comment in a book, or the lyrics in a song, or via the help of a counsellor. But most of the really tough, nitty gritty knowledge about our deep dark desires and failings, came about through difficult conversations, sleepless nights and desperate soul-searching.

Therefore, in lots of ways, The Course of Love felt redundant for me, especially as Rabih and Kirsten's story didn't continue into the trying teen years, that joyously sad time of empty-nesting, failing health, retirement, down-sizing and loss of a spouse.

De Botton and his characters also seemed to forget about humour.
Being able to laugh together and amuse each other can get you through, over and around any number of life's hurdles.

The Course of Love will no doubt spawn quotes that will end up in greeting cards, marriage vows and Instagram accounts. But the book itself didn't quite hit the mark, as fiction or as informative non-fiction.

Interesting, easy to read, but not riveting.

A few quotes that I highlighted along the way....

Love is a skill rather than an enthusiasm.

What we typically call love is only the start of love.

Love means admiration for qualities in the lover that promise to correct our weaknesses and imbalances; love is a search for completeness.

Everyone will have something substantially and maddeningly wrong with them when we spend more time around them.

The partner truly best suited to us is not the one who miraculously happens to share every taste, but the one who can negotiate differences in taste with intelligence and good grace.

Compatibility is an achievement of love.

12/20 books of summer (winter)


  1. I watched the rather lively discussion of this book on Book Club just last night, and now here I find your review this morning. I would still like to read this book someday I think even though it clearly divides people. I usually like de Botton's books, they're generally interesting- I just finished listening to the audio book of How Proust Can Change Your Life, which is possibly his most obscure title. I'm just know that now is the right time for me to read it as my marital status has gone the wrong way in the last year and I don't know that I care about the achievements of love just at the moment.

    1. Oh Louise I'm so sorry to hear that! The teenage years do seem to be the tough ones for lots of couples judging on the number of friends I see going through difficult times right now. Whether it's teenagers in the house (plus, usually, menopausal mother!) or something about being with someone for nearly 20 yrs.

      But that is exactly what's missing from The Course of Love - what happens when it goes really wrong. But perhaps that's a whole other book!

      Thinking of you xo

    2. Thanks Brona. Yes, we were a few weeks short of 20 years. It does seem to be a difficult barrier to break through. I'm starting to come out the other side though, and beginning to look forward instead of back. Yes perhaps marriage breakdown can be Alain's next novel? There's certainly enough of it going around. It usually takes me at least 10 years to get to reading Alain, so perhaps I'll be ready then, and besides I've still got a few to catch up on.

  2. It's so true about those hard won realizations being powerful because we worked them out for ourselves. And, it's quite interesting to read a book in our 40s/50s with that hard won perspective. I would like to read this author someday, as I haven't yet.


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