Book Review: Essays in Love // Alain de Botton

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As soon as the final word on the final page of Essays in Love ended, I felt a strong impulse to write about how this book made me feel, so here goes.

This book is a rarity. Feeling so content and warm when reading a book happens only on occasion, and this book has been successful in doing so. Written by Alain de Botton as his first novel in such a beautifully poetic manner, Essays in Love documents a passionate and tender relationship between a man and a woman, which happened coincidentally and ends inevitably. Told from the man’s perspective, his philosophical stance on love for his other half Chloe paints an intricate picture of how intense love can be. He marks each part of the relationship in chronological order, each chapter as a mini philosophical essay, going into great depth about simple details of their relationship such as seducing her, saying ‘I love you’, silently arguing through ‘romantic terrorism’ and wanting to commit suicide when it’s over. This all may sound slightly obsessive – which it essentially is – but through de Botton’s flowing and softly-spoken writing style, it’s as if the novel is being whispered to you (in the least creepy way possible).

The novel begins with their meeting on a flight, which sounds clichéd but it captures the surprise and coincidence love can bring. The characterisation of the speaker depicts him as a clearly highly intelligent and profound man, whose analytical thinking allows us directly into his mind and how well he can breakdown and evaluate love. As the chapters progress, so too does the relationship, which starts off awkward but grows and grows into a strong adoration for one another. His observations of the little mannerisms and physical attributes of Chloe which he found to be beautiful were extremely poignant, as are the moral questions he asks about love such as “If she really is so wonderful, how could she love someone like me?” and “Is it not my right to be loved and her duty to love me?”

The relationship between the speaker and Chloe is one of normality; it’s nothing spectacular. What really makes it so special, however, is the way the story is told in such detail and depth. Each sentence is sculpted so flawlessly; the last couple of chapters are particularly stunning, as the book doesn’t simply describe being in love, but also being out of love, and these chapters deal with getting over a break-up in such a raw and realistic manner. Describing Chloe’s affair with the speaker’s work partner Will was heart-wrenching to read, particularly due to how deep his affections for her were, but the beauty of it is how realistic it is – it’s not all magic and fairy tales, it’s just an ordinary relationship (if such a thing exists).

The book often references philosophers and analogies from philosophy which may be slightly confusing if you don’t have prior philosophical knowledge; however this does not affect the book as a whole. It can, at times, be quite challenging to grasp due to the scope of language used, but this generally makes the book so much more sophisticated.

Whether you are falling in, have fallen or have fallen out of love, Essays in Love will explain all the complexities, unanswered questions, underlying feelings and strange sensations love seems to entail. This book is a treasure, one which is highly underrated, and I am left blown away by its beauty. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to recommend this novel to everyone and anyone who’s willing to listen.

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