The Course of Love

The Course of Love: A Novel
By Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton’s long-awaited second novel is a thought-provoking book that tells the tale of a young couple living in Scotland. Kirsten and Rabih meet, fall in love, get married, and then – according to fairy tales – should live happily ever after. But as de Botton points out, this is where the real story begins. Instead of asking couples ‘how did you meet?’ the actual question of interest is ‘what happened after the wedding?’

This warts-and-all view of a modern marriage charts the various challenges of married life – the exhaustion of caring for young children, the daily grind of working families, never-ending household chores, financial pressures, career frustrations, extramarital temptations, the death of elderly parents – and the inherent rewards for those who persevere.

It’s a beautifully-written and insightful book that makes you ponder your own marriage. There’s not a strong plot line; rather, the focus is on the two main characters and their responses to life’s challenges. Also, the novel acknowledges the fact that we all bring ‘baggage’ to our marriage, in one way or another, and that our upbringing shapes our future relationships.

The Course of Love is a celebration of the everyday, the mundane. One of my favourite quotes was when the author suggests that we shouldn’t compare our relationships to the romantic plot lines that we see in films. Real life will never live up to those expectations: ‘By the standards of most love stories, our own, real relationships are almost all damaged and unsatisfactory. No wonder separation and divorce so often appear inevitable. But we should be careful not to judge our relationships by the expectations imposed on us by a frequently misleading aesthetic medium. The fault lies with art, not life’.

Woven through the narrative are additional paragraphs that offer a philosophical and psychological examination of the behaviour of the protagonists. Some of our book clubbers confessed to skipping these sections, as they felt it disrupted the flow of the story – whereas others enjoyed the extra analysis.

In summary, this is a novel for readers who like to reflect on life, and to think about the reasons why people behave the way that they do (Carmen!); if that doesn’t sound like you, then you might find it a little slow-moving in parts (Helen!). We also discussed whether you’d recommend this book to friends who are going through a difficult patch in their marriage – and we disagreed on this point! A few people thought you needed to be in a good place in your marriage to handle the book; yet, others thought the content might provide reassurance that marriage can be hard work, it can be boring, but that love is more than romance.

Either way, it’s certainly a book that gets you thinking – and I suspect it’s the kind of book that will spring to mind in the years to come, whenever the benefits or challenges of marriage crop up in conversation.