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Pondering love and relationships

The month of Valentines is appropriate to ponder love

Read in Ned | March 1, 2018

By Roberta Brown-Jones

“Love is a skill, not just an enthusiasm.”

February, the month in which Valentine’s Day occurs, is an appropriate time to ponder love and to be drawn to books about love and relationships. While shelving other books at the library, I spotted a novel called The Course of Love, written by Alain de Botton. Lured in by the title and after reading its frontispiece, I commenced to read.

The Course of Love provides an honest, wise, and hilarious depiction of love and relationships. Being in a long-term marriage, I now know enough about the ups-and-downs of living with the same person over decades to scoff at some novelists’ depictions of romantic love and marriage. De Botton, on the other hand, shows the rewards of committing to one person but doesn’t sugarcoat the reality that a long-term relationship will sometimes involve suffering and, occasionally, periods of great unhappiness. Pithy statements throughout the book set the tone for its lesson plan on love: “Marrying anyone, even the most suitable of beings, comes down to a case of identifying which variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.”

The novel’s lovers are Kirsten, a bright, independent Scottish woman and Rabih, a cosmopolitan, multi-linguist born of Lebanese/German parents. They meet when Rabih, an out-of-work architect, is forced to take a less-than-prestigious job as an urban-designer specializing in plazas and road junctions. He is tasked with designing a roundabout on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Scotland. Kirsten, a senior employee with the Edinburgh surveying team, meets Rabih at the construction site to discuss the project. In working together, they find each other’s similarities and differences intriguing and begin to fall in love, providing the author many opportunities to explore the various facets of their relationship.

De Botton’s novel reads much like a pragmatic, psychoanalytical manual on love and marriage. Interspersed between the novel’s storyline, which takes the lovers from first encounter, to marriage, to children, to infidelity, and finally to mature love, are frequent instructive italicized sections seemingly written by someone wise and out of love’s fray. These asides explain both the folly and the wisdom of what the characters are doing. As one passage notes, “We seem to know far too much about how love starts, and recklessly little about how it may continue.”

The author describes the dreariness that befalls most long-term couples, whose priorities and interests evolve over time. He presents both the banality of everyday life but also, upon reflection, how meaningful and beautiful some ordinary day-to-day events are. The book is broken into major sections such as “Romanticism” and “Ever After” that take the reader through the love process that occurs in many a relationship. These chapters are then subdivided into sections like ”Infatuations,” “Sulks,” and “Universal Blame.” De Botton is adept at articulating the universal joys alongside the equally universal annoyances, disappointments, and tragedies that often accompany a long relationship.

The Course of Love is a book that should be read by those just beginning to contemplate being in a relationship as well as those well along the relationship road as it offers both cautionary advice in addition to useful suggestions for appreciating and building upon a solid foundation of love. The book also entertainingly expresses many of the irrationalities of being human.

In addition to this novel, de Botton wrote a precursor to it called On Love, written decades ago when he was in his early twenties. If after reading The Course of Love you find that you enjoy its philosophical perspective, the author has also written many non-fiction works that revolve around discussions of various subjects such as status anxiety, work, sex, the news, and religion.

In 2008, de Botton started a global organization called The School of Life, whose mission is to provide people with “a sense of direction and wisdom for their lives with the help of culture.” Its website ( provides a greater depth of information on various topics related to emotional intelligence. So, there’s far more from this author that one can enjoyably explore.

 Roberta Brown-Jones is a Library Assistant at the Nederland Community Library.


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