The Course of Love by Alain de Botton was hard to read at times, because I kept recognising my own relationship failings in the character’s faults, not to mention those of my husbands. Only joking. Well, sort of only joking. He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers believes he doesn’t have any faults. Clearly he is Mr Right, first name Always, which annoys me enormously, and being annoyed with him for being right all the time is obviously a fault of mine.
However, this isn’t about me….
The Course of Love follows a couple, Rabih and Kirsten, from their first meeting and the early days of their romance, through their engagement and marriage, their struggles to maintain their relationship and friendship after they become parents and during hard times as they get older, which includes adultery and the death of their parents.
Rabih and Kirsten find it strange that other people only ever ask how they met, when for them, the interesting part of their story is all the days that come after that first meeting, particularly how they manage to overcome the many difficulties which are part of a long-term relationship. Both Rabih and Kirsten came to their marriage with insecurities, which of course causes issues during their marriage and it is not until many years into their marriage that either of them realise that perfection in a relationship does not exist.
Rabih and Kirsten’s story is alternated with advice relating to the relationship stage which their characters are in, offering suggestions for different ways the couple could manage their problems and/or understand each other better. The advice or essays consistently suggest that the ideal of ‘Romanticism’ as a basis for an ongoing relationship is flawed.
While the advice sections were clever and apt and use Rabih and Kirsten’s relationship difficulties as case studies, they actually became annoying and eventually put me off the story. The advice became more and more lecturing and I came to see the narrator as a holier-than-thou know-it-all. I’m fairly sure the narrator had more than a touch of Mr Always Bleeding Right about himself too.
However, other parts of the story made me sit up and think. The idea that our perfect love is that which our parents had for us when we were very small children, when we were always smiled at and made much of, with our every need anticipated and catered for is probably true. (I don’t ask for much more as an adult, just bring me some chocolate and leave me alone to read for a while).
The arguing about trivial things was familiar to me, as it would be to most people. After reading this I’m more aware that the arguments I have with people I love are not necessarily about the obvious reason. I can see that the arguments are not useful or helpful, but even with my newfound insight, will we continue to have these arguments? Probably, because I’m not perfect.
The characters in The Course of Love had plenty of trials, but it seemed to me they needed more fun times.
I expect most people could take some advice from The Course of Love and their relationships would be the better for it, but as a novel, this book didn’t really draw me in. If the advice had been less clever and the story more filling I expect I would have enjoyed it more, but it you enjoy self-help books, then go for it. As for me, I’ll stick with my normal method of sneaking off to my secret stash of chocolate when I’m feeling annoyed with He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers, who is actually lovely most of the time.