Q&A: Alain de Botton

Posted on 21st April 2016 by Rob Chilver & Alain de Botton
Philosopher Alain de Botton, author of The Course of Love, discusses the ideology of Romanticism.

The Course of Love - Alain de Botton

Although we tend to associate Alain de Botton with his series of deliberately-accessible books dealing with contemporary living (beginning with the ground-breaking How Proust Can Change Your Life in 1997), de Botton first found print as a novelist. 1993’s Essays in Love was a unique, microcosmic dissection of a relationship that effortlessly bridged the gap between novel and philosophy, becoming over the years a cult hit for those who have fallen in – and out – of love.

Over two decades later, de Botton has elected to return to the fiction arena with his compelling The Course of Lovea novel which explores the inordinate complexities of two people sharing an entire life together, stitched together by de Botton’s utterly engaging, forensic analysis.

Alain was kind enough to spare us some time to talk about The Course of Love and his thoughts on happiness in general. 



You’ve written a book on love. Are you a Romantic person?

Not quite. I believe in love but romanticism and love are in many ways in conflict. The book attacks an ideology of Romanticism, which promises us a variety of things; that we will find one special person, that they will be our soulmate, that we can have no secrets from them, that love and sex will always accompany one another. These are beautiful ideas, but they are also deeply troubling ones, if one expects to find them in reality. The book gently cautions us and attempts to educate us away from a Romantic point of view.


Can we ever be truly happy or do you think we are always looking for ‘one more thing’ to complete us?

Complete perfection in love is a dangerous ideal. At one point in the novel, one of the characters suggests that a useful way to start a dinner date with a prospective partner is to ask, with a good natured smile, ‘So in what ways are you mad?’ We’re all deeply tormented and peculiar from close up – and it pays to recognise this without rancour at the start of a relationship, so that we don’t become bitter or angry with the reality.



What was it that drew you back to writing the novel? Was it the only way this story could have been told?

When you’re speaking of love, the novel is an ideal form. I’d written Essays in Love at the age of 23, now at the age of 46, I wanted to explore the topic once again. I deliberately wanted to pick a very ordinary love story; no one is murdered, not much dramatic happens, yet I hope the novel will be interesting because of the minute way it studies emotions and feelings many of us will have had. I’m attempting to hold a microscope to the reality of long-term love.


What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading a book by the English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott called Home is Where We Start From: it’s a delightful attempt to understand how people’s childhoods affect their adult realities.

The Course of Love will be available online and in our shops on Thursday 28th April. View the book trailer below.




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