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The Course of Love: A Novel Hardcover – June 14, 2016
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PRAISE FOR THE COURSE OF LOVE:
“The Course of Love is a return to the form that made Mr. de Botton’s name in the mid-1990s…. love is the subject best suited to his obsessive aphorizing, and in this novel he again shows off his ability to pin our hopes, methods and insecurities to the page.”
–The New York Times
“There's no writer alive like de Botton, and his latest ambitious undertaking is as enlightening and humanizing as his previous works.”
"For me, the publication of any book by Alain de Botton is as much a reason for celebration as it is for cerebration, and his novel The Course of Love is a satisfying look at relationships and the perils of romantic love. This public philosopher writes with verve."
–Wall Street Journal (WSJ.com)
"This book is like a self-help book for dating and relationships, disguised as a novel...We understand what each person is thinking and why, with de Botton’s insights sprinkled in. It made me rethink what it means to be happy in a relationship."
–The Cut (NYMag.com)
“[De Botton] analyzes Rabih's feelings, especially, with the finesse of a therapist—and in fact there is more than a whiff of the couch in this exemplary tale…Readers looking for insights and guidance will find plenty.”
“An engrossing tale [that] provides plenty of food for thought.”
–People (Best New Books pick)
"Assured...The author deftly delivers both sides of the marriage, exploring the incompatible interplay of romantic love and practical love...Part literary novel, part self-help handbook, “The Course of Love” certainly illuminates the subtle and not-so-subtle fissures of one modern marriage and what it takes for two people to stay together through the years...this nontraditional novel is generous in its spirit and message."
–San Francisco Chronicle
"A cunning novel that tells of a couple from the spark of first love, maintenance through the demands of children and career, the challenges of boredom, and aging. What happens to our original ideals under the pressures of an average existence?"
–San Francisco Chronicle
"A living, volatile portrait of how two very different souls love, complement and aggravate each other. You may not agree with all of de Botton’s thoughts on marriage, but it’s wonderful how he makes such a big, sweeping subject out of routine existence...[De Botton's] uncanny access to Rabih’s and Kirsten’s contrasting feelings, aspirations, insecurities and resentments at every changing stage of their love lives makes the novel a marvel."
'“The always-intriguing de Botton, who returns to fiction after 20 years and numerous nonfiction books, aims to answer the question, What is it like to be married for awhile? The answers are often funny but also quite moving, thought provoking, forgiving, and drenched in truth.”
"An ambitious book; one that resolves, if it cannot change art, to widen our expectations of what we might go to a novel for. The lives of Kirsten and Rabih...help us in a solemn way to examine the illusions and pains that loving relationships are heir to. The Course of Love testifies that discontented families, if we cannot call them unhappy ones, are much alike after all."
“Well-observed and imbued with a tenderness that feels authentic and uncynical. It may even save some marriages. My bet is that if de Botton’s name were taken off this book it would be fêted by the sort of people who are in thrall to Milan Kundera and Adam Thirlwell. He wants us to feel less alone — and that’s not such a bad thing.”
—Evening Standard (UK)
“The course of true love may not run smooth, but the storytelling certainly does in this wise, humane and irresistibly readable history of an appealingly nuanced relationship. De Botton deftly moves us through time, weaving in philosophical interludes that showcase his essayistic gifts, so that before we know it we have lived a whole life with these two, and they are just getting started. De Botton directs his ferocious intelligence at the most complex puzzle of all, and it seems that no intellectual or emotional problem surpasses his ability to solve it.”
—Matthew Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves
“The Course of Love is a complete delight. Not surprisingly, I feel that Alain de Botton not only wrote it for me, but also that we must have been conversing on these subjects happily and deeply, privately or in my dreams.”
—Amy Bloom, New York Times bestselling author of Away and Lucky Us
Praise for On Love:
"The Romantic Movement sheds light on the nature of relationships...The method of telling much and showing little produces a good deal of wit, cogency, and humor."
—John Updike, The New Yorker
"A reader gets whiffs of Donald Barthelme, Julian Barnes, Woody Allen...De Botton borrows exuberantly, and well, from forebears [and] therein lies the buoyant charm of this approach."
—Lisa Zeidner, The New York Times Book Review
"Smart and ironic...The success of On Love has much to do with its beautifully modeled sentences, its wry humor, and its unwavering deadpan respect for the reader's intelligence."
—Francine Prose, The New Yorker
Praise for The Architecture of Happiness:
“De Botton has a marvelous knack for coming at weighty subjects from entertainingly eccentric angles.”
—The Seattle Times
"An elegant book. . . . Unusual . . . full of big ideas. . . . Seldom has there been a more sensitive marriage of words and images."
—The New York Sun
"With originality, verve, and wit, de Botton explains how we find reflections of our own values in the edifices we make. . . . Altogether satisfying."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"De Botton is high falutin' but user friendly. . . . He keeps architecture on a human level."
—Los Angeles Times
Praise for How Proust Can Change Your Life:
"Delightfully original.... As well as being criticism, biography, literary history, and a reader's guide to Proust's masterpiece, this is a self-help book in the deepest sense of the term."
—The New York Times
"One of my favorite books of the year.... Seriously cheeky, cheekily serious."
"Curious, humorous, didactic, and dazzling.... It contains more human interest and play of fancy than most fiction."
—John Updike, The New Yorker
"A witty, elegant book that helps us learn what reading is for."
"A wonderful meditation on aspects of Proust in the form of a self-help book. Very enjoyable."
"Funny and very refreshing."
—San Francisco Chronicle
Praise for The Consolations of Philosophy:
“Wonderfully original, quirky.... De Botton finds inspiration where others might fail to look.”
"An enjoyable read... In clear, witty prose, de Botton...sets some of [the philosophers'] ideas to the mundane task of helping readers with their personal problems.... The quietly ironic style and eclectic approach will gratify many postmodern readers."
About the Author
Alain de Botton is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including On Love, How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Consolations of Philosophy, The Art of Travel, and The Course of Love. He lives in London where he founded The School of Life, an organization devoted to fostering emotional health and intelligence. More can be found at AlainDeBotton.com.
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Top Customer Reviews
Those same readers might want to reconsider that reaction after reading his sagacious, sophisticated new novel, THE COURSE OF LOVE, which wraps insights like that one around a sensitive portrait of a marriage to make any thoughtful reader question, with de Botton, the psychological and social damage inflicted by our modern notion of romantic love.
He patiently marshals the evidence to support his case through the characters of Rabih Khan and Kirsten McLelland. Rabih is an architect with an Edinburgh urban design firm that specializes in public works projects, while Kirsten is a local civil servant with a degree in law and accountancy. They meet on a construction site, and within two hours Rabih magically "feels certain that he has discovered someone endowed with the most extraordinary combination of inner and outer qualities," the person "with whom he wants to spend the rest of his life." The couple's brief, intense courtship is proof positive of de Botton's arch definition of marriage:
"Marriage: a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don't know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully omitted to investigate."
Though their backgrounds couldn't be more different, they share the experience of early loss. Rabih, an atheist of Muslim ancestry, grows up in Beirut amid the sectarian violence of the Lebanese civil war. Shortly after fleeing the city for Barcelona by way of Athens, the 12-year-old boy loses his mother, a German flight attendant, to cancer. Raised a Catholic in Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands, Kirsten watches her father inexplicably walk out of his family's life when she's seven, never to return.
As the couple discovers only after much pain and mutual misunderstanding, these early traumas have shaped each one's response to marital conflict in ways that threaten repeatedly to undermine their bond. "We too often act from scripts generated by the crises of long ago that we've all but consciously forgotten," de Botton writes. "We behave according to an archaic logic which now escapes us, following a meaning we can't properly lay bare to those we depend on most."
That corrosive process plays out as de Botton follows this attractive young couple through the first 14 years of marriage. We experience along with them how the first flush of romantic love and its attendant sexual excitement are gradually scraped away by the friction of life's demands and disappointments that include the birth of two children and a casual act of adultery.
Far from being the embodiment of perfection and mutual fulfillment each initially sees in the other, Kirsten instead endures the frequent flaring of Rabih's irritability and anger as his career stalls and he's weighed down by the burdens of fatherhood, while her response to his tirades is to withdraw into isolation, a reaction that only fuels this destructive cycle. When each embarks on the process of improving the other, the tension rises.
The aphoristic style of de Botton's New York Times essay emerges here in frequent authorial asides that make his novel a cross between a work of fiction and an astute self-help manual. Ranging from droll to at times a bit frightening, those observations offer substantial grist for reflection to readers who have been married for any length of time.
de Botton argues (and displays movingly through the story of Rabih and Kirsten) for what he calls "enlightened romantic pessimism," an attitude that "simply assumes that one person can't be everything to another." Instead of holding each other up to an idealized (and impossible) standard of perfection, he suggests, "We should look for ways to accommodate ourselves as gently and as kindly as we can to the awkward realities of living alongside another fallen creature. There can only ever be a 'good enough' marriage."
By the novel's close, de Botton has gently helped us understand how even the most seemingly unremarkable marriage may deserve to be regarded as a work of quiet heroism. "Love is a skill, not just an enthusiasm," he concludes, an attitude most couples might do well to adopt to carry them through the inevitable rough patches and leave their unions intact.
Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg
Combining Rabih and Kirsten's fictional story with his own insights and commentary on their relationship, De Botton proposes that "enlightened romantic pessimism" is a healthier and more realistic alternative to Romanticism, the latter of which gives us unrealistic expectations of relationships and sets us up for inevitable failure.
There's no "right person," suggests De Botton, and in each and every longterm relationship we are doomed to encounter a variety of suffering and unfulfillment; therefore, committing to another person is akin to saying, "I've surveyed the different options for unhappiness, and it is to you I am choosing to bind myself." Whether readers find this depressing or comforting will likely vary. (For me, it was the latter.)
Much like De Botton's first novel, many of the insights he provides in The Course of Love are accurate to the point of discomfort. It's not easy to identify with his propositions, yet there is universal truth to them, and there's something distinctly comforting in that. It's always special to read a book -- particularly a work of fiction -- and feel as if the writer is communicating truths about yourself that you've never been able to adequately acknowledge, let alone convey.
As a fan of both philosophy and fiction, I find great satisfaction in De Botton's ability to translate profound ideas and insights into accessible and entertaining prose. The Course of Love is a captivating read, but seems as if it would be especially meaningful for individuals in the beginning phases of longterm commitment.