Essays in Love // Alain De Botton
“The problem with needing others to legitimate out existence is that we are very much at their mercy to have a correct identity ascribed to us. If, as Stendhal says, we lack a character without others, then the other with whom we share our bed must be a skilled intermediary or we will end up feeling deformed and misrepresented. But do not others, by definition, always distort us – whether for better or worse?”
It is in this beautifully whimsical tone that Essays in Love depicts the act of falling in love. And all its complexities. When ‘love’ is something so natural in all of our lives, we often overlook the serious impact it has on even the minutest aspects of life. De Botton reflects on a past relation with a woman named Chloe, and seamlessly intertwines philosophical musings on love to make us realise the strange and even erratic thinking that love washes over us.
Reflecting on the full course of the relationship from the fateful beginning, the lustful middle before the inevitable breakup, De Botton deconstructs the relationship up into a serious of chapters that all focus on a different aspect of love. Philosophy is at the heart of the novel, with chapter titles including ‘The Fear of Happiness’, ‘Love or Liberalism’ and ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ – a nod to Nietzsche’s famous philosophical novel of the same name.
The novel’s ability to draw our attention to the impact of love on the human condition is what makes the novel so enduring. It is beautiful, yet thoughtful. Musical, yet honest. De Botton lays everything bare, and in doing so produces a piece of literature that is completely naked; it scratches bare the very truths of society we thought were eternally fixed.
In forcing us to re-examine love, De Botton highlights the beauty of it. It is not simple, but something so utterly complicated, and it is these complications that make it so valuable; if it was easy, it would be meaningless. So, while a novel that revolves as just as much around heart ache as it does love, De Botton’s overall positive portrayal of love and his commitment to highlight of the sheer power of love makes it a perfect read for anyone this Valentine’s Day.
Words by Juliette Rowsell