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On Love, A Novel

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How many novels are written by philosophers? More than you might think: Voltaire, Camus, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Huxley, it’s a lengthy list. Sean McGrady, in an essay in The Guardian, writes “The philosophical novel is the continuation of philosophical reflection by other means.” Now I better understand why such novels found on high school and college required reading lists were my least favorites.

I came across Alain de Botton, back in 1997 when we at Bonanza Books, couldn’t keep his How Proust Can Change Your Life in stock. I ambivalently bought a copy, and even though I had slogged my way through Proust, my unread copy of that de Botton book has taunted me ever since. Then I came across a used copy of his The Consolations of Philosophy and bought it only because its low price enabled me to cash in on my bookstore discount coupon. I read it, loved it, and reviewed it on Bookin’ with Sunny, vowing I would read more of philosopher de Botton.

Back in San Francisco, at one of my favorite used book stores, Green Apple, I found de Botton’s On Love and felt duty-bound to buy it. Once again, I read it, loved it but find it hard to describe exactly why. On Love, a Novel is perfect for the newly in love, or the reader who is dating that special person, or the heartbroken “I’ll never love again!” reader.

Are you an adventurous reader? One who doesn’t turn his/her nose up at an illustrated novel? There are a few illustrations, not many, but a few. And they are generally inventive and give the reader often humorous and enlightening pause. Philosopher Alain de Botton is a thoughtfully funny guy. Chapters in the book are not numbered, they are titled as in the first chapter, Romantic Fatalism, which begins on page 3. The chapters are then broken down numerically by paragraph. Romantic Fatalism’s first paragraph (1) begins, “The Longing for a destiny is nowhere stronger than in our romantic life.” What follows is a philosophic riff on that first sentence. Thereafter, each paragraph is numbered. The love story begins in paragraph three (3) when the first-person narrator meets Chloe, his seatmate on a homebound flight from France to England.

Alain de Botton has written, inside a novel, a crash course on the philosophy of love. It has a beginning, a middle and a sort of end. We’ve all experienced at least some of the incidents within the story. The first numbered paragraph of each chapter tells the reader what might be coming both in plot and philosophy. It really is a novel: they meet, they date, they question themselves, they date heavily, they, on occasion, cohabitate, they meet others, they secretly date others, return to each other, and then? I can’t tell you if Chloe and the narrator find happiness, but you will have found yourselves so often in this book, and laughed so hard, and picked up enough serious philosophy that even Sartre might be next on your to-read list.   –   Sunny Solomon

Also available by Alain de Botton: The Course of Love; The Architecture of Happiness; On Love, a Novel; Status Anxiety; The Consolations of Philosophy; The Art of the Travel; Religion for Atheists; The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work; How To Think More About Sex; The News: A User’s Manual; A Week at the Airport, A Heathrow Diary; The Romantic Movement: Sex, Shopping, and the Novel; Kiss & Tell, A Novel; On Seeing and Noticing; How to Take Your Time; Art as Therapy (with John Armstrong).

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