Looking at it from a certain angle, you might conclude that Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love is kind of cliché ridden. Turn your head a little, and you’ll see that that’s pretty much the point. Because in dramatising the relationship of Beirut born Rabih and Inverness original Kirsten from its very beginning, Botton is showing not only what happens in this love affair, but the familiar patterns we all find in our own. Maybe you’ll recognise the nervousness on early dates or the excitement on the first touch of the other’s skin. Or maybe it’ll be the uncertainty over marriage that will ring your bell, or even the recognition of insecurities we are too insecure to share. Or maybe you have had similar experiences of the life-changing power of children, or the occasional wish that they’d leave you the fuck alone for a few hours.
Taking us through their meeting, their marriage, their arguments, their children, their counselling, their real and imagined affairs, and their eventual settling into maturity, Botton is not breaking new grounds in terms of story. But he is making the story he tells do more than most people would. Rabih and Kirsten are actually not the true protagonists of this tale; instead, love takes centre stage with its good, bad, ridiculous, and hideous sides all on show.
There will be moments when every reader raises a wry smile or finds their shoulders shuddering. There will be things you recognise in yourself that you hope nobody else has ever seen, and there will be elements of your partner, in one or both characters, that you will feel comforted to know that others have experienced. And there will be times when you feel like the cliché goes a little too far. Remember that, in that moment, another reader might be feeling that same recognition that you did on the previous page.
Any Cop?: It’s rare to read something that feels fresh and brave while telling a tired and recognisable story. Botton has created an investigation of love that will resonate with people of all ages. It’s fun, insightful, and extremely thought-provoking.