The Course of Love is a typical modern day 'boy meets girl, boy marries girl' story that De Botton sets up in order for us to feel recognisably within our comfort zone. We all know our own version of modern day couple Rabhi and Kristen right? This familiarity is a vital ingredient which De Botton then uses, having settled us in, to engage us in his own theoretical musings about the emotional pit falls that underlie any relationship between two people.
Each chapter sets out to explore a specific scenario, as the couples' relationship develops, which De Botton increasingly comments on with italicised interjections that turn his story into a case study. This is a unique literary style, lets call it 'philosofiction', which turns the title of this book on its head - the 'Course of Love' could conceivably by a evening class De Botton offers at his School of Life. We see Rabih and Kristen dealing with everything life throws at them, at home and at work, with a comprehensive and running commentary throughout.
Both characters are easy to empathise with and the issues they face vary from the mundane to the life changing. The Course of Love treats both extremes in the same way suggesting that successful relationships are equally about the everyday and the extraordinary.
So how does de Botton's 'philosofiction' stand up to literary criticism? The fact is The Course of Love is less novel and more course; Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World achieves a better balance as the academic extracts are fully integrated into the narrative. De Botton's interjections are initially interesting but the technique is over used to the extent that the narrative itself become fragments of story in a lecture. That said De Botton's voice is so accessible that that I don't think anyone else could deliver the academic case study novel in this way. Perhaps this is not the last we've seen from the 'philiosofiction' genre. I'd certainly read 'The Course of..... something else'
I read this novel on kindle in February 2016 mostly at home in Oxfordshire.
The Course of Love, A Novel by Alain de Botton, published by Penguin, 216 pages