The Course of Love by Alain de Botton is not your typical man-meets-woman romance novel. Man does meet woman. And woman does fall in love with man. But then, we get to find out what happens when ‘happily ever after’ rolls around.
How often have you watched or read a romance film or novel where man and woman finally get together after some prerequisite trials and, as they disappear off into the sunset, wondered, ‘What will happen to them?’ Take, for example, Beauty & the Beast, Pride and Prejudice, and Groundhog Day. Our leading men and women are besotted, in love… and then what?
Through Rabih and Kirsten’s relationships, Alain gives us an insight into ‘ever after’ in an honest and frank manner that is nonetheless emblematic of most ‘normal’, everyday love relationships. In the process, he thoroughly debunks the myth that finding ‘the one’ will melt away all of life’s problems, because funnily enough, life has a habit of continuing to throw you trials and tribulations while you traverse down the ‘ever after’ path with the love of your life.
The Course of Love is broken up into sections that represent the stages of love spanned over a lifetime from courtship, through marriage, to children, and even adultery. If you have a partner, you will likely find yourself identifying with one chapter ― or a few ― and nodding along as you read. It is a novel that you may revisit several times over during a lifetime, but each time you read it, a different part of the story will resonate with you. Beyond Romanticism speaks to me at this point in my life as a 27-year-old woman, but if I were to reread The Course of Love as a 37-year-old, it might be Children, Ever After or even (gasp, shock, horror) Adultery. Love is work: a continuous emotional labour in communication, empathy, and understanding that doesn’t always turn out as we hoped or as we intended, even when we are lucky enough to meet and spend the rest our days with ‘the one’. To create a love that is only just functional ― let alone exceptionable ― is a work of art.
The quirk that makes The Course of Love memorable is not Alain’s beautiful, calm style of writing or his exploration of the philosophy of love, but rather Rabih and Kirsten themselves. This is a character-driven novel with two so very well-drawn, individualised characters that you tend to forget their actions are written out by the author. Rabih and Kirsten feel more human and three-dimensional than any other fictional characters I have ever come across ― you half expect them to speak back to you from the book’s pages. You continue to read, not for the plot, but to understand these two characters as if they were your friends.
If you’re looking for some romance this winter, I highly recommend you snuggle up under a warm blanket with The Course of Love and a cup of hot cocoa in hand. Partner is optional.
1.“…love is a skill rather than an enthusiasm.” (p. 6 – last sentence of ‘Infatuations’) Discuss.
2. In western culture, the death of marriage has been announced several times over, yet the institution continues to exist. Why?
3. Kirsten and Rabih are an interracial couple. How do you think their course of love may have varied if they had come from similar cultural backgrounds?
4. Are couples inevitably doomed to be as predictable as Kirsten and Rabih?