Reviewer: JJ Marsh
What we thought: Both a novel and a philosophical case study, this short work will take you just as long to read as something twice its size, as you will frequently put it down to consider the theories the author interjects. Not to mention comparing the couple’s behaviour patterns to your own relationship(s).
De Botton takes on love once more, but this time, what happens after ‘happily ever after’? Romanticism is focused on the start, the initial impetus and chemical imbalance which brings two people together and convinces them this state will last. Rabih and Kirsten meet, like each other, fall in love and marry. They have two children, they work in ordinary jobs and encounter very average problems. They are unexceptional, which makes them and their fictional love a perfect specimen to put under the microscope of reality.
As the relationship skips or stumbles, the author’s voice takes us aside to analyse hypothetical alternatives to their reality, for example, how the situation might play out if both were better communicators. Sex, jealousy, irrational behaviour, children, the influence of their own childhoods, comparison to others, marriage counselling and contentment all exert a pull on this couple and the reader.
This is a conflict in itself. We want to grow involved with the story and the characters, but the author reminds us to step back and think about what we are witnessing. Once used to this rhythm and intent, the ‘interruptions’ encourage reflection and even discussion, with insights and moments of illumination thrown over one’s own life. The book itself makes us wonder at the meaning in the mundane.
You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Any other of de Botton’s works, Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, Milan Kundera’s The Joke
Avoid if you don’t like: Slow pace, fractured narrative, thinking
Ideal accompaniments: Salmon jerky, iced water and Mahler’s Leider und Gesänge
Genre: Contemporary, philosophical
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