Summary and book reviews of The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

The Course of Love

A Novel

by Alain de Botton

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2016, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2017, 240 pages

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Book Summary

"An engrossing tale [that] provides plenty of food for thought" (People, Best New Books pick), this playful, wise, and profoundly moving second novel from the internationally bestselling author of How Proust Can Change Your Life tracks the beautifully complicated arc of a romantic partnership.

The long-awaited and beguiling second novel from Alain de Botton that tracks the beautifully complicated arc of a romantic partnership, from the internationally bestselling author of How Proust Can Change Your Life. De Botton's essay "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person" (The New York Times, May 28, 2016), which draws from The Course of Love, was the #1 most emailed article for days.

We all know the headiness and excitement of the early days of love. But what comes after? In Edinburgh, a couple, Rabih and Kirsten, fall in love. They get married, they have children—but no long-term relationship is as simple as "happily ever after." The Course of Love is a novel that explores what happens after the birth of love, what it takes to maintain love, and what happens to our original ideals under the pressures of an average existence. You experience, along with Rabih and Kirsten, the first flush of infatuation, the effortlessness of falling into romantic love, and the course of life thereafter. Interwoven with their story and its challenges is an overlay of philosophy—an annotation and a guide to what we are reading.

This is a Romantic novel in the true sense, one interested in exploring how love can survive and thrive in the long term. The result is a sensory experience—fictional, philosophical, psychological—that urges us to identify deeply with these characters and to reflect on his and her own experiences in love. Fresh, visceral, and utterly compelling, The Course of Love is a provocative and life-affirming novel for everyone who believes in love.

Infatuations

The hotel is on a rocky outcrop, half an hour east of Málaga. It has been designed for families and inadvertently reveals, especially at mealtimes, the challenges of being part of one. Rabih Khan is fifteen and on holiday with his father and stepmother. The atmosphere among them is somber and the conversation halting. It has been three years since Rabih's mother died. A buffet is laid out every day on a terrace overlooking the pool. Occasionally his stepmother remarks on the paella or the wind, which has been blowing intensely from the south. She is originally from Gloucestershire and likes to garden.

A marriage doesn't begin with a proposal, or even an initial meeting. It begins far earlier, when the idea of love is born, and more specifically the dream of a soul mate.

Rabih first sees the girl by the water slide. She is about a year younger than him, with chestnut hair cut short like a boy's, olive skin, and slender limbs. She is wearing a striped sailor top, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What makes this book distinctive?
  2. What is the difference between Rabih and Kirsten's views of love at the start and at the end of the story?
  3. What does the author mean by 'Romanticism' throughout the book?
  4. In what way is Rabih hard to live with?
  5. In what way is Kirsten hard to live with?
  6. What do the characters gradually learn about one another?
  7. Can a good novel be didactic? If not, why not?
  8. Does the division into action and italicized commentary work?
  9. What are the immature patterns of behavior that make love hard for our couple?
  10. What is mature love?

Questions provided by the Author and issued by Monterey County Free Libraries of California. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

New York Times

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 Chicago Tribune

There's no writer alive like de Botton, and his latest ambitious undertaking is as enlightening and humanizing as his previous works.

People

An engrossing tale [that] provides plenty of food for thought.

NPR - Heller McAlpin

There's a possibly inadvertent but telling double-entendre in the title of Alain de Botton's new book .... [it] exposes the direction his work has taken — toward the ever more didactic. More of a case study than a novel, this is a course devised to teach readers how to navigate the pitfalls of romantic attachments.

Publishers Weekly

The novel is a valuable commentary on the state of modern marriage and it reassures us that troubles are a normal, even necessary, part of the journey.

Kirkus Reviews

More treatise than novel...A philosopher of the everyday can't help but write marriage as a primer.

Booklist

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.

The Evening Standard (UK)

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.

The Guardian (UK)

It should be clear by now that what propels us through the novel is not plot, but character, and De Botton’s meticulous examination of the emotions and behaviours that draw the couple together and nearly drive them apart ... Scattered throughout the narrative are italicised passages of essayistic contemplation on the nature of love, abstract reflections commenting on each new development, without mentioning the characters by name. These musings are clever, their tone a mixture of irony and sincerity ... If we eventually find ourselves skimming such sections, it’s less a critique of De Botton’s novel than a testament to his ability to so involve us in the fates of his endearing couple that we resent any interruptions, and hurry along to learn more about the love story that likely mirrors our own and that of so many others we know.

The Scotsman

This is a wise book, and a delightful and witty one too. It makes you think and feel. You will learn something about yourself and about other people.

Reader Reviews

Beata

Fiction that reads like Nonfiction
A fiction book that reads like a nonfiction, very unusual, almost like a self help book for people living in loving relationships. I learned more about my marriage from this book than about the main characters. My best read in 2016.

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