On Love, Alain de Botton

From the popularity of The Bachelor to the amount of paraphernalia surrounding Valentine’s Day, it seems that romance is having a renaissance. And with all the roses, candlelit dinners and champagne, what’s not to like?

Many a single dreams of catching the eye of a handsome or beautiful stranger and calling it love at first sight. And it is not surprising we feel this way, after so many reality tv shows, movies and even fairy tales we have watched or heard throughout our lives has promoted the phenomenon of romantic love.

However, it is this rose-coloured, unstudied perspective on love that Alain de Botton challenges in his latest book, On Love.

I read On Love after attending Alain de Botton’s Wheeler Centre talk on the topic of love, and the event was funny, entertaining and enlightening.

The book covered similar territory, with more effort and time required to access the information, but also, more reward. While the story of the couple at the heart of the book was an easy-read, following their early

relationship as it developed over the years, through marriage, parenthood, and finally, acceptance of their individual flaws and madness.

However, the accompanying explanations were not such easy reading, and took the book into text book territory. The explanations covered the reasons for the couple’s conflict and the background to their sometimes poor behaviour.

While I agreed with many of de Botton’s words, and believe they would be beneficial to any couples either starting out or experiencing conflict, or even singles looking for love through those aforementioned rose-coloured glasses, there was one sticking point in the book for me. It was the chapter on infidelity. I struggled with the notion that the happiness of the marriage depended on the betrayal remaining undisclosed, although the subtle suggestion of mutual infidelity might have been used to make the decision more palatable.

However, perhaps this reflects my romantic, rather than rational, view of love. I just could not get past the fact that one of the protagonists was hiding an enormous, selfish and hurtful secret from his wife, in a lesson on love.

Despite this qualm, by the end of book I found myself surprisingly moved. De Botton’s words provided a sense of the indifference of the

world, and the value of a partner who we might choose to spend our lives with, regardless of their habits or behaviours that we might, occasionally, find irritating or hurtful.

In this book, de Botton’s thoughts and theories are easily accessible and inoffensive. They highlight truths we feel like we should already know, but somehow make them new and enlightening.

While difficult to categorise (is it fiction, self-help or philosophy?), On Love successfully conveys the complexity of love, which both asks and offers far more than the romantic stereotype.

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